Ulysses was dead. Had been for a few hours now, at least according to the timestamp on the grainy camera feed, which showed them laid out at the base of that goddamn tree. It was now mid-morning, not that there was any real way to tell down in the depths of the Acheron. The light from the video monitors travelled only a short distance into the vast cavern, one of uncountable chambers like it, full filled with the wire-bound minds of the dead.
“I didn’t know you had a camera in the tree chamber,” a chirpy voice commented from the shadows. Ashes sighed.
“Yeah, you did, Marius. You put it there.”
Ashes resumed the task at hand, threw the empty canister onto the pile and opened up another. Raphaella sat perched atop the rapidly growing mountain of empty gasoline cans.
“You’re sure we can’t take any of this?” she asked, gesturing at the vast expanses of brain matter. “A few minds from the Acheron would make fine specimens.”
“Nope,” Jonny called from the back, waving what looked like a large ham at them for emphasis, “this one is Ashes’ playground, and they like to make a clean break when they grow out of their toys. Besides, I reckon picking the right ones would be a bit of a mindfield.”
“Nothing? I’ve been saving that one up for seventy years. Not even a grimace?”
“It just seems a waste to leave the place unburned,” Ashes smirked, ignoring him. “I don’t want them to think I’m ungrateful.”
Marius was still staring intently at the monitors.
“Didn’t you have one on the vault door? With Daedalus and the others?”
“Turned it off – couldn’t stand the old man’s whining. ‘Hades, help me!’, ‘Hades, we had a deal!’. Got on my nerves.”
The smell of gasoline was now almost overwhelming. Any human would have passed out long ago, but Ashes continued, “Ulysses was pretty much the last thing on this planet worth playing with, and not good for much at that. From here on it’s just stagnation. Or at least, it would be. The Acheron controls everything: water, power, even the automated farms. When it burns…”
“I’m sure they’ll find something to eat,” Jonny said, taking another bite from his chunk of meat. He paused in contemplation. “Since we’re not technically human, does it count as cannibalism?”
Ashes shook their head.
“You ask me this every time you eat someone, and the answer is still I don’t give a fuck. Is the Aurora ready for pick up?”
“Yeah, and you’ll never guess who she brought.”
“Ivy and Nastya?”
“Fine, you guessed,” Jonny said, looking downcast.
“Then I think our work here is done.”
Ashes smiled a toothy smile, took a deep breath, and struck a match.