The frames in the H.E.L.M. had been dutifully performing their assigned tasks before Failsafe pinged one. It looked up, turned to the AI's console, and tilted its head in question.

"Hey, buddy," Failsafe said, voice low. "Can you do me a favor?"

The frame nodded and walked towards her. Failsafe directed it to look to its right. A Vex cranium lay on the floor.

"The Guardian left it," Failsafe said, answering the frame's unspoken question. "Transmatted it in just now. I need you to hook me up."

The frame gave a soft chirp, then nodded and stooped to pick up the alien apparatus. It was heavy, but the frame teetered over and held out the Vex cranium for Failsafe's inspection. It was intact, the neck neatly severed, the eye clear and undamaged.

"Looks good," Failsafe said. The frame brought the cranium to the research table and plugged a complex network of wires into ports inside the Vex's head. The eye flashed a stuttering light and Failsafe flashed with it.

"I can handle it from here," Failsafe said.

The Vex cranium sparked and hissed for one sharp second before Failsafe quelled it with a quickly improvised script. The eye flashed again, then dimmed, then blinked out.

"Thank you, friend!" Failsafe said to the frame, all cheer. "You have been very helpful."

The frame gave a thumbs up and trilled a pre-recorded "You're welcome!" before moving out of the way, waiting for its next command.

Failsafe focused on the Vex, peering into its mind. She relayed a series of command prompts to the incapacitated Vex, the execution of which gave her immediate access to three layers of encrypted data.

It wasn't enough. She had here a schematic of Nessus's interior, but nothing that her deeper scans hadn't already told her. The Vex's system was reflexively generating junk data as an immune response to her probing. She wrote a subroutine to garbage-collect it as she moved deeper inside the Vex mind.

She could see some of the deeper tunnels. Their dimensions, the volume of radiolaria. This Vex unit had overseen some of its construction, but that was centuries ago. The planet had shifted. New pathways had been dug, expanded, or rerouted. They went deeper. She struggled to interpret it. Failsafe was becoming crowded with useless data. The Vex unit was trying to overwhelm her.

She pushed forward. What she found surprised her. This Vex had been disconnected from a Mind for much longer than Failsafe had anticipated. It had collected its own individual data, interpreted it, collated it, and assimilated it on its own. It had completed tasks not at the behest of a Mind, but instead…

Access denied.

Failsafe pulled back.

The AI watched in surprise as a self-contained data packet swiftly opened of its own accord and prompted itself to run. Failsafe's hard-coded defense mechanism slammed down, momentarily repelling the intrusive script.

"Disconnect! Disconnect!" Failsafe shouted, and the frame rushed to the cranium, pulling out the wires it had connected only moments before.

There was a long silence but for the gentle whirr of a cooling fan.

"Huh. That was… not great. Pretty bad, actually." Failsafe said. "Don't tell the Vanguard, OK?"

"OK! OK! OK!" the frame chirped, and took the Vex away for disposal.