Disclaimer: 9 and all affiliated content belongs to Shane Acker, Tim Burton, Viacom, and generally people who are richer and/or more talented than I am. But not for long…

AN: I had to do it. I've been trying really hard to hold myself back, but I had a plot bunny, and it had to come out.

This is stupid. You shouldn't be here. You shouldn't be doing this.

He was doing it anyway.

There are five very big reasons why you shouldn't play with this thing. And three more that are still alive.

Funny that he didn't count his own life as one of the reasons. That should have been a big one, shouldn't it?

This is suicide, the rational part of his mind reminded himself. That rational part of him sounded suspiciously like 1—maybe that's why he took such pains to ignore it.

"Isn't that what the Scientist did?" he asked the rational, cowardly, 1-like part of himself. It was easier to believe if he said it out loud.

No, this is completely different. He died so we'd survive. You're doing for your own selfish curiosity, and you will very likely get all your friends killed because of it. Just like you did 2.

He felt a pang of guilt slice through him. He stopped and looked back at broken horizon where the towers used to be, belching smoke and fire. They were nothing but still, silent rubble now. Broken. Ruined. Dead.

The thought made him shudder, and he tore his gaze away. He needed to keep going. He was almost there.

Maybe it's rusted over. Maybe it's completely ruined. Maybe it's dead and gone and won't ever come back, no matter what. That would be best.

He focused on the ground in front of him, trying to clear his mind. He'd already been through all of this. He'd already decided. He'd made all the preparations, and the calculations, and he didn't even know if it would work, and—

He crashed into a banner. It was faded and dilapidated from the rain, its single inscription barely visible anymore: 5.

He was at their grave. The mounds had been pummeled flat by vicious raindrops, the trenches that united them filled in with mud and water. All that remained were the banners that marked the deceased, and even these had been beaten down by the weather. 1's flag had managed to fall into the mud.

This is sacrilege. That was very much 1's voice. You're just going to go on and meddle with their murderer? Is that how much they meant to you?

9 swallowed back bile, and pulled 1's flag from the mud and cleaned it as best he could. That wasn't right. That wasn't what he was doing. He was going to fix things. He was going to—

Really? His mind demanded. What are you going to fix? Are you going to bring them back to life? Are you going to save them? Everything's fine as it is—it's as good as it's gonna get anyway. You should have quit while you were ahead—while 2 was saved and everyone was alive. You should have left it alone. You should have left everything alone.

He should have.

You should turn around right now and go back and apologize to 7 and the twins for running off. You should never think about or talk about or go near the Machine again. You should just be satisfied and live your life already.

He should.

So why don't you!?

He didn't have an answer for that. All he could do was finish righting the flags in their positions, bow his head (he wasn't sure why he did that either, actually, but it felt right), and walk away.

Just over the ridge, just out of sight of the grave, lay an unburied corpse. Its dozen spindly arms lay outstretched and its legs were splayed, thrown back by the power of the Talisman. Its eye was hidden away behind a huge iris, but he knew that the once blood red light had gone dark. It was smaller than he remembered it—still gargantuan, but no longer the tower of steel and death that it once had been. Even so, he had to fight every fiber of his little being not to flee from its presence.

The Machine was dead, but it wouldn't be for long.

Not if he could help it.