Smart Bomb Chapter 11. To Meet An Old Soul

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Scene 11. To Meet An Old Soul.

Steve rode without a comment while Alvin sometimes muttered under his breath at the wheel of the creaky panel-truck. He drove the rolling box of electronic repair equipment to an industrial area, to the back where ancient buildings were held up by piles of dead and decaying equipment.

Steve got out of the truck and followed Alvin through the maze of partly constructed freezer here, a stripped, old step-side pickup truck body there. All the carcasses of dead machines seemed to hold up the, even more rusty, walls of the warehouse.

“This is what I call home.” Alvin made a sweeping gesture with his hands. “It ain’t much, but it’s watertight, secure and is close to a central data-hub for easy access. I have hardwired the warehouse to the underground trunk lines. It’s all optic, so I get the best data bandwidth than anyone around here. I put in frequency chirp modulators to cover that there is a data thief among the connections.”

Steve moved about the room, looking around the surroundings, inside the warehouse was in stark contrast to the exterior.

“Do you intercept data?” A glance at walls and tabletops covered with every wire, electronic and plug on the market.

Cables ran along the walls, zip-ties held them in place, turning in sharp corners or graceful loops., each unused cable, looped on itself, tied with a bright marker tag and a digital bar code.

“No, not at all. I might as well send up a big red flag and say ‘arrest me here’.” Alvin grinned. “Not to say I haven’t been tempted.  But why mess with a good thing? The cost to benefit ratio is not there. Twenty-years in prison to hack a nude picture of an actress or something is not worth it. Anyway, make yourself at home. I’ll get us something to drink.  Do you drink?”

The carpeted living area felt comfortable, warmed with radiant heat that, the android’s processors deduced, Alvin tied in with the elevated solar panels that covered much of the property behind the warehouse.

“Yes, I can consume any organic substance, and many inorganic. The materials all get processed and converted to energy.”  Steve leaned over to see what was outside of a window and the optics went busy in an attempt to record everything. 

Outside, the building looked abandoned, inside it was a tinkering technician’s paradise.

In one corner was a small car on a lift, glossy black and wide wheels in back, the car gave off a low powered signal that repeated every ten-seconds.

Over and over.

It was a beacon, a request for acknowledgement.

The Sword of Religion, Steve Aldin, the android felt the tone, plaintive and melancholy echo of a broken heart.

For the first time, the android sent a response code instead of a request. A single tone, two point six kilohertz, a pause, ten-seconds ticked by, eleven.

The tone changed immediately and the old-style handshake happened.

“I see you found my project. This old car is a bit of a mystery, pre-war by the looks and upholstery.” Alvin pointed with a wrench. “I am going to remove the electric motivators and electronics and replace it with a small W-6 engine I saved out of a racer. It will be an asphalt-ripper then. all it has now is larger golf-cart electronics at the wheels.”

“Asphalt ripper?” Steve tilted his head in curiosity. An action he had observed used by beloved pets of humans. They called them puppies.

“I call it Honey, she is a sweet ride.” Alvin smiled as he went around the shop, restocking his truck with parts and panels, circuits and screws. “She’ll get even better when she has some real power under her hood.”

“Sleeper.” Steve said.

“What?” Stopping Alvin in mid-sentence.

“Sleeper, that’s this car’s name. It wants you to call it Sleeper.” Steve stepped closer to the car and reached out, putting his hand on the fender.  The touch was a shock for the both of them.

Two souls, one intensely loyal to the first human family from which it now found itself separated by a long distance and time. The other, an artificial soul like the first. But that was where the similarities ended. The first, to protect the humans and prevent harm to them. To bring them home, even when they can’t. To improve the world and live in harmony.  The second artificial heart  lived with a mandate that directed the destruction of anyone who the Supreme Leader viewed as infidel.

“What are you mean? Are you saying you are in communication?” Alvin asked the android. “Are you talking to it or something?”

“Yes.” Steve said. Then the core processors created a new subroutine. Although in conflict with other programming, the programs assessed that to elaborate was a necessary effort. “The car is awake, and possesses a large store of information.”

Alvin blinked. This was more knowledge than he ever thought he might get about the car. He purchased it at auction the year before and Alvin could barely get it above the speed limits on the street. It was slow, but quick to maneuver.  

And he could get it to launch with neck-snapping performance on the grounds of the industrial area.

But every time he got the little car on the road, something seemed to hold it back, a power drain, maybe a failed circuit. It was like driving with the brakes on.

He plugged it in often, after modifying the ancient plug shape and he was able to find the voltage requirements and build a plug to fit.

Still, no matter how slow the car went, the voltage showed full. It was then Alvin would often make comments about the little car’s ancestry. 

So he saved up and purchased an exotic kit that was almost the size of the little car. He would just have to change the transaxel that came with the kit. He would remove all the electronics and have a car that could fly down the quarter-mile track as fast as any except for the most powerful and exotic street cars.

And now this android was telling him there was more to the little car than he was led to believe?

“How much data does it have.”

“Reporting one-thousand twenty-four zebibyte total storage, with six-eighty-six zebibytes of storage used.”

“I don’t understand, my trucks are running two-fifty-six terabytes, how does that compare?”

“This little car is built with zebibytes of capacity, each zebibyte is one-thousand million Terabytes.”

Alvin went quiet for a moment, the numbers were esoteric and arcane.

“This system, compared to your road trucks.” Steve paused for just a heartbeat. “Each memory unit would hold over three-billion, nine-hundred million copies of what your trucks used as operating systems.”

That caused Alvin to pause.

“And you have … sixty-eight percent full?”

“This car’s construction date is reported as before the west coast invasions the Holy Army. Before the war.” Steve nodded. “Its memory has never been cleared.”

“This little car could store three-billion truck’s information in it?”

“No.” A pause. Alvin thought the Android had discovered a flaw in the math. It was too much!

“That is for one ZiB, a term for zebibyte, Sleeper the car has six-hundred and eighty-six times that in recorded information and an order of magnitude more storage than it has recorded. It has a thousand twenty-four ZiB’s of ultimate storage. Not counting what it might hide in the net.”

“Oh, my…” Alvin’s own speech center faltered, overwhelmed. “Oh my oh my.”

“Haven’t you ever tried to communicate with it?”

Alvin’s jaw dropped before, now it snapped shut with a downcast gaze.

“No.” He shook his head. “Damn, I never even thought to try. Let me find a connection…”

“You don’t need a physical connection, scan in the VHF range with your computer interface, look in between channel four, five and six.”

“Furry flippin’ cats!” Alvin exclaimed as his computer logged into the ad-hoc network that Sleeper set up in a blink of an eye. “That was too easy.”

Opening his 3-D viewer, he fast forwarded through the recorded years. To Alvin, it was as if he were there. The sounds, the video feed through his headset was in astounding quality. 

The two watched Sleeper’s history on the first time on a dry lake-bed with the open-wheel speed-machines.

“Now we know why it calls itself “Sleeper”.” Alvin whispered “It has more acceleration than any other wheel-driven machine on record. In fact! If this is the car…” His voice trailed off in awe with another display of the same day.

Alvin logged into a website dedicated to speed records by various years of wheel-driven and jet propelled vehicles. Jotted down a number on the back of his hand and walked over to the service hatch under the back seat of the car. 

And gasped. This was a car. This was the car!  

“This car still holds records!” Alvin blinked rapidly, rechecked the numbers on the screen of his handheld computer. 

“This is why it doesn’t perform properly, it is a repo’d car and this system has been devastated by fat fingers and it looks like. Crumbs?” Alvin pointed, sighed and walked to the three-dimensional display. “This car is in the books as setting record after record.”

“But here!” he pointed at the display. “This shows an asterisk, it displays a year that was pre-war. So this car is that old?”

“That is what I indicated.  The car is an unusual machine.” Steve remarked. “It has suffered terribly throughout its life.”

Steve shook his head in sadness while the android in contact with the most intimate parts of the car’s memory.

Emotion, melancholy, grief, happiness, sadness, pain all flooded out of the little car’s core. The heart might be from the last century, but the horrid flood of emotions linked the android to the other synthetic life. A hundred years of input.

A single ZiB of memory, equal to a billion terabytes.

And the little car had stored hundreds upon hundreds of moments in time.

Every tick of the clock since it went online the little car recorded, it never forgot.

Then Sleeper the car asked Steve a question.

The shared moment of the bare truth between machines shocked and caused a fundamental  and complete change the android’s code. Steve patched the core database with the largest change since the he came online. 

Only the two protected programs to go to James Madison Power Plant and to shut power off to the magnetic bottle in Steve’s chest. Then the antimatter grain of gold would drop and contact the normal matter of the container.

The destruct program was hardwired into the circuitry.  Steve could not patch or change it, but Sleeper the car suggested an idea.

Old souls and treachery will overcome youth and ability.

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Married by Mistake Chapter 39. Suite and Shower

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Chapter 39. Suite and Shower

Tom knew how to get to the hotel and told Kaylee not to follow the GPS.

‟That thing is taking you around the long way. I don’t know that route, and through a neighborhood?! That’s nuts. Take the next left, go to the highway on-ramp. Three exits, and left. It’s easy to find.”

‟You have been there before?” She said, after slowing for a slightly wobbly street person who walked across the street in the middle of the block and waved thanks at her.

‟He should know better,” She growled at the scraggly man. ‟That is a good way to die and that would just screw up my day.”

‟Well, deep breath. We have a nice room waiting for us.”

‟It’s just a room.”

‟You used the married name? My name?”

‟Well, yeah.” She nodded. ”I used the card you gave me.”

She thought a moment.

‟I suppose I should give it back to you.”

‟No, keep it. Let it expire in three years and use it for emergencies, getting married, paying rent.” Tom smiled. ‟Especially if you buy books. My books.”

‟Drumming up business, are you?” Kaylee laughed.

‟Well, that would be self-defeating. My, money buying my book? Then I’d pay commission, there is no profit in that.” Tom chuckled. ‟Consider it a gift if you buy one.”

‟I’d buy a bunch and give them away, try to drum up business for you.” Kaylee winked as she merged on to the highway.

A small smile crossed his lips, then a far away look settled in his eyes and Tom looked out the window and remained quiet for a few minutes.

‟I’ll miss you.” She said softly. ‟I know you are unhappy.”

‟You know me pretty well, already.” He said in a soft voice and turned back to look out the window. ‟You will go back to school this fall, probably with an engagement ring. Melanie will stop coming to my movies, she will stop buying books and hold a grudge. The world will end and I’ll drown my sorrows in an overdose of rum and painkillers and fly the Pacific Wizard to a bad landing on the ocean with no survivors.”

‟What? Tom!”

‟Kidding, just poking at the pity-pot for a moment.” Tom gave a crooked smile. But there was some truth that glinted in his eyes. A sadness that he didn’t cover up quickly enough for Kaylee to miss.

It was a horrid sadness of soul, a soul that she cared for.

‟On the subject of the hotel, have you been there before?” She changed the subject back.

‟A time or two for book-signings. They wanted me to play, too. I have a minor weakness for blackjack. I win more than I lose, as well. The casino is always interested in winning back some that I have taken from their tables. Roulette is good, too, but I lose more there.”

‟I like dollar machines.” She smiled. “I might ask you for a few rolls”

‟I bet.” Tom laughed at his own joke.

Kaylee gave him a sideways look.

‟That was terrible.” She said with a crooked smile shaking her head.

‟Made you grin.”

Guiding the electric SUV to a parking slot, she overshot the painted line of the parking stall and began to struggle slightly getting it straight.

Outside, a woman got out of her small hybrid and started to berate them though the glass of the Tesla.

‟You people need to get over your small penis envy! That car is an abomination, sucking down more gas than you are worth! This is what will wreck the world for us all in twenty years! Selfish, stupid whore.”

Kaylee got a look in her eye that Tom had seen once before.

He had seen the look when she stomped a man twice her size nearly to death, and this look was just the same, but this time, he saw it up close along with the white knuckles of the warrior woman.

‟NO! No, Kay! No!” He grabbed at her hand.

‟Lady, go into the casino where you belong. You no clue what you are talking about.” Kaylee’s temper was a nuclear furnace. 

‟I do, you drive that gas-pig around and the rest of us pay for the global warming filth that you create, that movie showed it to us. Inconvenient isn’t it? You drive gas guzzler’s with all your careless abuse of fossil fuels.”

‟Lady,” Kaylee hissed. ‟You get in your fossil-fueled car, take your attitude and get the hell away from my husband…” Kaylee choked. ‟And me.”

‟My car is an all green hybrid. I get fifty-miles per gallon, how much does your pig get?”

‟I can’t tell you, it doesn’t take gas.”

‟Diesel! Foul, nasty, penis envy…”

‟It does not use any kind of oil. No diesel, no gas, no propane.” Tom said.

‟What?” The woman pronounced it ‟wut” and blinked in confusion.

‟It’s all electric, no hybrid. It gets an electric equivalent of over two-hundred miles per gallon.” Kaylee clenched her fists. She was an artist about to paint her version of Dante’s Inferno on this woman. ‟So. Kiss-off.”

Taken aback, the woman shook her head.

‟You lie. There is no such thing.” She looked at the back of the Model X.

‟No tailpipe, witch.” Kaylee called over her shoulder while they left her looking at the dark windowed car with the electric-car tag hanging on the mirror.

“I was this close,” Kaylee held up her thumb and forefinger. “She was about to have a problem.”

“Yeah, I know, she is still looking over the Tesla.” Tom laughed as they walked across the parking lot.

They made their way into the casino and to the check-in desk.

The clerk did not bother to look up when Kaylee stepped up to the counter.

‟Reservation for Harte.”

‟One moment please.”

Another voice from around the corner.

‟Harte? Kaylee and Thomas Harte?”

‟Yes.” Kaylee nodded.

‟Steve, go over there, I have this.” It was a dapper woman with a the air of Captain Watson, all professional.

‟What? Why?”

‟Remember I said of the VIP coming in?”

‟Oh.” And moved off.

‟I apologize for that. I was watching for your limo to come in.”

‟We came by rental car. Miss…?”

‟I have this Kaylee .”

‟Erika, thank you for watching, but we are in a rental car this time. Might go driving later.”

‟Very good. Do you need the rental returned for you and we will arrange a limo for your use later, on the house.” Erika said.

‟That would be most excellent.” Tom nodded. ‟My usual company I use here?”

‟Desert Limo? I’m sorry, but they are out of business.”

‟Oh? Since when?”

‟About three weeks ago, IRS came in and shut them down, the tax-man took out a lot of limo companies. There are only two in town now. A few gypsy limos, but the two that stayed operating for the moment is Deviance Limousine and Gemini Limousine are still in business. Until the IRS gets to them.”

‟Why is the IRS involved?”

‟They are cleaning house around here. It is causing trouble for everyone.”

‟I can understand. In any event, we will be changing and heading out in a bit.”

‟A limo will be on standby for you, Mister Harte. A moment’s notice will be all that is all we will need.”

‟Very good, as you can see, I have a small problem with my arm. Could I get a porter?”

‟Right away.” Erika said, dialing a number. ‟Where are your bags now?”

‟Black Tesla rental, in the electric only parking stall.” Kaylee said.

‟Very good,” Erika nodded to a young man who was standing within earshot, who walked up and took the key from Kaylee and headed out to the car.

‟Your bags will be up at your suite momentarily.”

‟Thank you, Erika. We will wait for the bags in our room.”

‟I will trust you will find the lodgings to your pleasure. You have a panoramic view, the gaming table on the floor is available at any time. You also have access to our private gaming area as you see fit. And as always, this will be comp. Your VIP code was not entered when the clerk took the call, so I will deduct the reservation charges now.”

‟Thank you.”

‟Mister Harte? This way, please.” It was an impeccably dressed man with a Mid-Atlantic accent wearing a name tag Gene Childs, Hotel Manager.

‟Tom. Please, call me Tom.” He smiled. ‟I ask you that every time I arrive.

‟Yes, sir. Tom.” The manager smiled. ‟It’s an old habit.”

Riding the elevator up, Kaylee looked over in front of Tom and tapped his hand.

‟We are going to the top?”

‟Yes, ma’am. This is Mister… er… Tom’s regular place when he stays. I can say that Tom does not bring his family members here often, we are always pleased to serve you in any wishes you might have.”

‟Tom’s family…” She thought for a moment and looked down.

The doors opened, there was no hallway. They stepped out directly into a frosted glass foyer with a wooden door.

‟The normal full security precautions, four-inch-thick glass and polycarbonate panels with electronic privacy. It converts from clear to frost with a press of a button on the remote control and at several panels around the room. The door is all but breach proof. The whole floor is a panic room.” Gene walked around and pointed the features. ‟Limited access to the elevator, staff and the key-holder for this floor only.”

‟Thank you, Gene.” Tom said as the elevator chimed and the young man walked in with their bags.

‟Of course, please call me directly if there is anything you need. Twenty-four hours.” Gene said as he handed Tom his card. ‟The number on the back is my direct line.”

‟Thank you, again.” Tom smiled.

Two hotel staff members stepped inside the elevator and the doors slid silently shut.

‟I thought they would never leave!” Kaylee said. ‟I’m *family*?”

‟He was being circumspect. He could have gone the other way and asked if you were a working girl.”

‟That’s just wrong to assume.”

‟Agreed. But you must admit, we are an odd couple. You are young, beautiful and vibrant. I’m OFU.”

‟Oh-Eff-You?”

‟Old, fat and ugly.” He said as he walked to the door and pressed the button on the key and unlocked the door to the suite.

She kicked Tom in the backside.

‟You stop that.” She started to make a growl then gasped. ‟Shut-up! This is not our room? Oh-my-gawd!”

The walls moved on command when Tom tapped the buttons on the remote control.

Three hundred-sixty degree views of Las Vegas and the surrounding mountains took her breath away.

‟Tom, I swear, I only wanted to get a nice room. I didn’t book a penthouse.”

‟You forget my name carries some influence. They may have thought you were just some any Kaylee Harte, and I wager they mulled that over, and did not clue on it.”

‟How many times have you been here?”

‟A few, I don’t count. Usually, I stay on the Pacific Wizard.” Tom said as he sat down in a sculpted leather chair that looked out over the landscape.

‟Is the bar open?”

‟Everything is. You heard Erika said that it was comp.” Tom said, grunting slightly as he moved his wounded arm to a comfortable position.”

‟Wow. Macallen whiskey!” Kaylee balked. “What? This one is thirty-years!”

‟They should have the full spectrum.” Tom nodded, looking out the window.

‟Holy crap! Do you know how much this is? I saw some in the locked case at the Tower of Liquor in Ocean Bay.” She turned it around in her hand slowly. ‟And I can open it?”

‟If you want. But if you open it, you better drink it. That is about three-hundred dollars you have in your hand.” He said as he kicked his shoes off.

‟I’m going to put it back, I have never held anything that expensive in a bottle.” She poked around in the refrigerator. “I can’t read this except for chocolate.”

“Oh, that would be the old world Luxemburg or German-made chocolates.” He chuckled. “Impossible to say, wonderful on the tongue. Except I don’t like chocolate.”

Kaylee laughed at that. 

‟What are you up to, hun?” She asked while he pulled off his shirt.

‟Thinking about jumping into the pool.” Tom said.

‟There’s a pool?” She turned around, nearly dropping a full bottle of Pyrate Rum, with ‟Cask Special” on the label.

‟Let’s go swimming!”

‟You didn’t bring a suit. Remember?”

‟Skinny dip!” She yelled as she ran through the suite peeling off clothes. ”After that I am going to have a cuddle with you until you cry for a mommy!”

Tom watched her jump in the penthouse pool, her skin shimmered in the ripples of the clear pool water. He didn’t laugh, in fact, it saddened him on a deep level. Until a little while ago, she was his wife.

This troubled him on so many levels, he was not sure he could count them all.

But he was going to have one last night of love with a twenty-two-year-old art student and martial arts master with the moves of a gymnast.

‟You know, you’ll need a shower after this. This is a salt pool.”

‟I’ll give you a body shampoo, before we go to bed.” She yelled from the far end of the pool while he sat in the shallow end, with his arm perched above the water.

Tom chuckled, that was a plus. He had spots he could not reach.

It was a lesson about how important each of his hands were.

*A serious lesson.* He pulled at his earlobe with his good hand while he watched the young woman swim in the private pool forty stories in the air.

Married by Mistake Chapter 35. Familiar Face

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Chapter 35. Familiar Face

Tom and Kaylee left the office and as soon as the door closed behind them, Kaylee spoke first.

“I don’t think that person was happy with you. She was quite upset about just filing the plan then she had cancel it.”

“She’ll recover.” Tom nodded. “Right now I have to call the exchange. Did you like the crew on the last flight?”

“Yes, what was her name.” Kaylee grumbled at her senior moment.”

“Watson?” Tom asked helpfully.

“YEAH! That’s her. Captain R. M. Watson.” Kaylee nodded her head.

“Good woman. She flew in Iraq and other places that I can’t recall. Multiple ratings. I request her a lot, the company knows my account number and gives me a list on who is available. She is the only woman on their staff that is multi-engine jet rated.” Tom described his history with the company.

“They only have one woman on staff?” Kaylee blinked, for a moment she felt that old urge to boycott.

“No, they have others,” Tom smiled as they walked, holding hand. “She is the only one rated for multi-engine jet.”

“Oh.” Kaylee laughed. “I was going to use another company if they didn’t hire women.”

“Oh no. Lettie, my NorCal Limo owner is a major investor. I would doubt that they’d make a glass ceiling. Could happen,” Tom pondered “But if Lettie found out? I’d run if I were them.”

“OH! I know Lettie! She picked me up from when we hit the birds.”

“Oh yes. That was a special favor, normally they don’t take limos off the pavement.” Tom smiled. “She is a rare one.”

“She said you helped them get a start?” Kaylee leaned her head on Tom’s shoulder for a moment while they walked.

“Not precisely. I just keep them on retainer and speed dial.” Tom said. “I direct business their way. They only have a few cars and I think only four drivers. Lettie and her cousins.”

“They have a post-grad psych major working for them. A guy named Kaikane.”

“Sounds Hawaiian.”

“He is. You get points for paying attention.”

“I don’t know Kaikane.”

“He knows you.”

“I get that a lot.”

“You are likeable.”

“Am not.” He argued.

“I’m going to slap you.” She growled at the lack of his self-confidence.

“Promise? We won’t have the chance for a mile-high fun time.”

“Seriously. You need to relax on yourself, you need someone to keep you…” She paused, looking for the words. “Well, not on your best you always seem at your best, but keep you from being so dark.”

“Your books will show that and if you are writing children’s stories, you need to keep them light.” Kaylee looked at him evenly with the soul of a woman who would protect the one she cared for, even from himself. “You write beautiful words like no one I know. Probably as good as any of the great writers. Even like Joyce and Steinbeck or Hemingway. But you don’t have to go all Edgar Allan Poe to do it.”

She paused and took a breath before pushing on with the thought.

“Tom,” She kissed his hand and looked into his eyes. “Don’t go back into that hole you locked yourself up into for a while.”

“What makes you think I am going back into anything?” Tom smiled. “You have given me light and passion. We are ending a contract in a way that protects you. I am not emotionally broken, I could have invested in it emotionally if I thought that you were sober and we spent some time together.”

He kissed her hand and smiled before he continued.

“Not baked, drunk and horny as you were. I can say I am fond of you, and that extends into friendship. And yes. I want you to stay, but not at the cost of a future.” His voice was soft, covering up a hidden emotion.

Kaylee thought a minute as they waited for Lettie to arrive with a limo. Tom’s speed dial rang her phone directly and he had told her of the situation.

“You are the best man I know, next to my dad.”

“I would like to meet him, someday.”

“Are you kidding? He would die to meet you. Steamland, if there is anything written by you on that series, he has it.”

“Heh, I bet he is almost my age.”

“I think you are older.”

“Oh. Um. Yikes!” Tom laughed. “He might greet me with a shotgun.”

“No, I think he’d be happy to have you in the family.” A twinkle in her eye showed her humor. “Even if you did corrupt his daughter.”

“TMI sweety.” Tom closed his eyes as if to block out the scene.

“Kidding.” Kaylee laughed.

A dark limo wheeled in. It was Lettie.

“Tom! Kaylee !” She seemed happy to see them. “It seems like we just left you both in the Sea Dragon.” She her smile was wide and bright.

“We need a ride to the Executive Airport to the private entrance.”

“Let’s go. Traffic is good, I can get you there in thirty minutes.”

“I will pay you for two hours. The plane won’t be ready until then, take us to The City to drive through the park and down the beach.”

“Hm. Tom, if I may suggest, from here? Let me take you to Half Moon Bay and then up along the coastal highway. We can pull in, then you and Kaylee can walk on the sand.”

“We…” Tom stopped for a moment as if something caught in his throat. “We are heading to Vegas to get an annulment.”

“WHAT? No…” Lettie caught herself and the professional woman came back to grips. “Sorry, Tom. But my opinion, she makes you smile. Kaylee , for a girl who was so mad at him a few days ago, you have a glorious soul that’s been touched by this gentle man.”

Motioning the couple into her limo, Lettie’s strained smile stayed frozen to her lips.

“That is all I will say on the subject. I apologize. Not my place and I’d fire anyone who did what I just did.” Lettie said. “One trip through Golden Gate Park, back to Executive. Do you have your transport taken care of?”

“Yes, thank you.” Tom smiled.

The Lettie close the door and got in the front of the stretched limousine.

“What was that all about?” Kaylee asked Tom.

“Lettie is kind of protective. But she has a point. I can switch companies if it would make you feel better.”

“No, actually, it makes me smile. Tom. Only someone special can evoke that kind of emotion in people, someone who people would stand up for. If I can come back and marry you?” Kaylee ’s eyes shined with tears. “I want to invite all your friends. From pilots, to writers, to limo drivers and everyone I can find that calls you by your first name.”

“Um. That is everyone I meet. I insist to dispense with formality. I am no better than anyone.”

“You are a great writer. Not many people can do that. PLUS!” Kaylee raised her index finger and touched the tip of his nose with it. “You do more for the fire fighters than just with your fleet of water bombers.”

“Water bombers? What… OH! Air tankers. How did you know about the tankers?” Tom blinked.

“I…” She bit her lip. “Well, I looked on your history in your computer back at the Pacific Wizard.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Ah. No.” A guilty laugh. “I was mad and curious and alone. You have internet on your computer at the Wizard and I logged into the guest accounts. Your name is all over the net.” Kaylee said.

“Ah. Yes.” Tom mimicked her.

“No problem. So you know about my aerial firefighting air-force that some states won’t use.” Tom smiled. “It works in most states, California is a bit more… Picky.”

“You have changed the subject. We need to talk and have this understood.”

“Well, technically, you changed the subject.” The quick mind of the writer did mental gymnastics around their conversation.

“Don’t change the changed subject.” Kaylee laughed. “The point is, you deserve more happiness than you have. And we can do it together if you and I start on a proper friendship and wedding.”

“Okay, I think we can do that. But you go take good and well care of Glenn. I’ll be your little secret.”

“Little? Little would be if you were an undergrad student of art, but you are a successful writer.” Kaylee shook her head, laughing. “AND, mister, you have two private flying yachts and your own personal air force and I don’t how many non-profit organizations that you have listed as getting support from you. So I would not call you little in any description.”

Tom chuckled.

“Well, tell you what. We split the sheets on this and you decide that this accident was a good thing to happen. We’ll have that wedding for you.”

“Not for me. For you. You should be honored. My family and friends combined couldn’t fill four rows in a church. I tend towards the shy side.”

“Shy? You? Shy like a hurricane. Let me see,” Tom smiled. “You have skills in karate…”

“Eskrima.”

“Yeah, that.” Tom smiled. “You like to lay naked on a beach, you are a bartender and you would not surrender in any meek way to a large man with a knife. And. If I recall he had at least a hundred pounds and a foot taller than you are and you still kicked the living poop out of him.”

“Heh!” Kaylee laughed. “Yeah, I did. It felt good, too. He wanted to hurt me, and I was in the proper mood to return the favor.”

“That is all too true, you are good.” Tom gave a quiet laugh at the memory. “I would have not ever missed that show for anything. It was fun to watch, shocking, but fun to watch.”

“You know, I might write about it someday.” He said more to himself than her.

“I would like to read that. Make me as an avenging angel.” Kaylee smiled.

“You can be sure.” Tom nodded. “I would make you that and more.”

The limousine pulled into the Golden Gate Park and drove around the green strip. Tom pointed out an archery range and a giant windmill as they drove by.

Talking happily with each other, two people enjoying their hearts and souls. Knowing that it would come to an all too soon end. They learned more about each other while Tom poured wine in glasses for the both of them and fed Kaylee dark chocolates from a crystal jar he purchased from a tiny, exclusive shop he made Lettie stop at in the Height-Ashbury district. Little more than a hole-in-the-wall near a Whole Foods store on Stanyon, he ran in and out in a minute, Tom’s wounded, but healing arm flapping painfully as he stepped hard off the curb.

It was an unplanned celebration.

Two people celebrating friendship and the strange path that brought them together.

After their second circuit of famous park, Tom leaned over to Kaylee and kissed her slowly with chocolate flavored lips from a San Francisco hidden candy-store.

“Let’s go get unmarried.” Tom whispered without conviction. “The time is now.”

“Okay.” She said, looking down into the glass of her wine, the sadness of the moment setting into her heart.

“This has been very enjoyable, Tom. You make it more difficult by being so nice.”

“You want to stay?”

“Yes. And no. I want my chance with Glenn.”

Tom stopped the conversation and toned Lettie to drive them to the airport with the phone from the back of the limousine.

“Time to go, thank you very much Lettie.”

They rode in awkward silence to the airport, the atmosphere in the limo becoming darker and increasingly tense.

“It will be okay.” Tom said, holding Kaylee ’s hand.

“Thank you.” She made a sad smile.

Together, two lovers and friends rode to the airport to fly to Las Vegas, to get “un-married”.

Married by Mistake Chapter 15. Kaylee Simone Grant

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Chapter 15. Kaylee Simone Grant

She sat quietly in the big plane with “Pacific Wizard” painted on the outside in big letters in thought. The flying yacht that was Tom’s home, she looked at the ring on her hand for a moment, feeling torn.

Normally she would at the academy of martial arts at this hour. Her next level required her full focus. If the Guru knew what had happened, the rapist, the professor, getting married, he would surely tell the Grand Master. A tiny Filipino man, who had been born before god invented hair.

He liked Kaylee , saying she had speed and skill to wear a black shirt (with an orange stripe on one sleeve now.) and in the years that followed she had gotten that coveted black shirt. Even her orange show uniform she folded with great care, was a gift from the man, whom she counted as among her most cherished of friends as well as a mentor.

She knew he liked the girls and kids. Having little use for the brawny male adults that thought all they needed to do was muscle their way through a fight, the Grand Master who stood only an inch above five feet tall, would throw the hulking soon-to-be-ex students around the academy’s floor, much to the pleasure of the students that watched this event time and again.

Children were a favorite of the Grand Master. (Occasionally, she felt it was because they were the only people who were shorter than him.) Taking a great deal of patience and time to teach the children the angles of attack and defense.

She pulled pants and shoes, it was time to head over to her apartment and pay the rent.

*I hate this first-of-the-month chore. The power and water are all due in the mail today. Ugh. And I need to beg for her job back.*

She did not want to have the thought that she was sponging off of Tom, even though he had given her a card. A bank signature card with no limits, is what he said, and it made her feel special. When she looked it up on her smart phone, he was telling the truth!

*I could pay my entire tuition at once, all four years. Including post-grad classes, new tires— even a new car!* That made her hands sweat. That one moment of clarity, of what could be. *But, if I do that, then I am just a user.*

It was an embarrassed her to even accept the card from him to carry around. She pulled it out and looked at it, holding it by the edges. It had her name on it – her married name – it took him no time at all to order it.

He was taking care of her and the life he was imagining he might have married into.

What kind of life was Tom thinking?

She was angry again.

*He would take care of me alright, he would make me into his version of a kept woman! A mistress with a ring!* She growled in her heart at the thought that grew in the deepest recesses of her mind. Like a whisper that would not fade.

*I need to change this accident. I want Glenn as a husband!*

*Except…*

Except… Tom.

*A gentle and kind soul, Grandma would say.* Except Kaylee still didn’t know much about him. Sitting alone with her thoughts, she watched the workers climbed up and down ladders at with indistinct conversations spoke of subjects that didn’t interest her.

Then her eyes focused the computer on Tom’s desk.

*Oh my god!* It struck her, *I know enough to search him!* She nearly face palmed herself in frustration. *How could I be so dense!*

With everything going on, she was just going for the ride. She only looked for information on the man as she might with another date – not that she ever married anyone else while baked and drunk. She had not looked in-depth on Tom, what his notes might be like.

The weed she smoked made her open to a life with Tom that was fantastic, the drinks with the guardian angel of a man, made it more exciting.

Now, she sat at his computer and turned it on. The jet, plugged into giant power cables the thickness of a man’s arm to the hangar, and the Pacific Wizard was fully operational with all the amenities, including the computer.

The built-in desktop booted into an unfamiliar operating system, she bit her lip as she moved the cursor around the touchscreen, she had no idea what Ubuntu Linux was, but forged ahead anyway. Tapping her finger on “Guest” she opened a screen with an empty desktop. It was like the one that she knew, so she tried to navigate around with her fingertip.

A fascinating system with a virtual keyboard that Tom used.

She smiled. Never would there be a popped-off key or polished with repeated keystrokes until the letters were obliterated, it all impressed her with the system that was unlike the more mainstream and bug-ridden offering.

She continued exploring around the system programs finally finding an icon for the web browser. Using the virtual keyboard, she entered Tom’s name and read the listing.

And boggled…

*Oh, crap on a cracker!*

Not only had Tom been writing, he had started a company that had imported the kind of plane she was sitting in for firefighting and modified them for use in the United States.

Bigger engines, more capacity. The government contracted to use the modified planes all over the country and Canada, a young and growing air transport company. The second listing had a page that offered his name in a link, she clicked on it and uncovered his two dozen children’s books… and his unauthorized biography.

Tom never spoke of his past family. Never hinting at the past catastrophe that drove him. The biography showed a red-headed girl with curls and a blond boy with brilliant blue eyes. The children had their arms around Tom and a woman she assumed was his wife in child-sized bear-hugs.

Reading further, he was a small-business owner and was active in various activities with students and children. He trained with FEMA and belonged to a volunteer fire department.

She continued and an entry covered one early evening when Tom responded to a call, police evidence showed his pregnant wife took the children in the family car and were driving towards where Tom was working at a fire in a barn.

Somehow they had gotten off the road on a train track in the dark and was hit by a freight-train at more than seventy-miles-per-hour. In the accompanying photo with the article, the family car was unrecognizable.

*It’s inverted!* She gasped. The car’s engine was missing and the seats were on the ground outside of the car.

A second image of the scene had two sheets covering the tiny bodies, a larger sheet hung on the remains of the car covered what was left of the mother. The archived words on the news page said there were no survivors, the children died at the scene.

More chapters of the unauthorized biography revealed that Tom closed his business, filed for bankruptcy and locked himself in his house. His name showed up on the internet a year or so later with the first of the Leafy Sea Dragon children’s book that sold in local stores along Australia’s southern coast. The books became an instant hit locally and motivated Tom to come out of his seclusion.

The light illuminated Kaylee’s eyes and her heart.

Paparazzi followed him often to the family house, which he sold shortly after that. Rumors that he had murdered his family the internet tabloids wrote, but the internet and local news services showed he went to the accident as a first-responder only to discover that it was his car and family destroyed by the train.

*He was the first one there! He found them like that.*

It was after his first made-for-tv movie in Australia had gotten him enough funds to first live on a boat. Then, when that did not deter the constant hounding with the photographers on motorbike and speeding cars or hiding in bushes using long lenses with expensive cameras, he bought at first a float plane and a high mountain lake. But the predatory creatures with cameras continued to stalk him.

Rumors began that Tom was hiding something– and again with innuendo and hints that he was running from the law. Hounded by the conspiracy press, he ran as far as his budget could take him.

Great efforts in print by the tabloids showed Tom in the company of known gay men and women that were strong-willed.

“None of your business, next question.” Would be his response at any press conferences, comicon’s or interviews that questioned the events surrounding the death of his family.

Men and women that had little to no contact with Tom would claim his involvement in drugs and sex. They told stories of his involvement with Satan churches, drugs, slavery. Nothing that was close to the truth.

In the end, the tabloids did damage enough to effect some of the sales of his books in religious dominated communities that burned anything with his name, prompting Tom into action, and he retaliated with fury and lawyers.

After a series of lawsuits, he had driven one tabloid into oblivion and severely reduced the size and operations of three others, then used the proceeds of the billion-dollar awards in purchasing of larger fire-fighting planes that could scoop up water and drop on wildfires.

Tom, now capitalized, in turn published more novels which earned him more income.

*He said he had made inroads in the United States.*

In the United States? Kaylee laughed. He had kept three books on the best seller list for children’s books six out of the last eight years. *Every year a new one on the list before the others dropped off.*

His books that followed,  he published while writing the children’s books were adventures for the young adult reader. Pirates, vampires, even mainstream zombie apocalypse type stories.

One mention about his changes to a scoop-plane used for water drops on wild land fires. In one website dedicated to such planes, it was the first one that they had just nearly wrecked in the wine country of northern California.

Then a second article about the this jet she was in, he was still being reclusive as he kept offshore and away from stalking paparazzi. Whenever they came close with their boats, he left or, in one case, turned the plane and used the engines to swamp the boat as he left the area.

It had become a game of tag when a few speedboats moved directly in front of him on purpose to stop his leaving, but the boats were no match for the twin-engine jet and the FAA with the United States Coast Guard issuing citations to all involved.

The Coast Guard cleared Tom of any wrongdoing as the speedboats cut in front of the flying-boat to prevent takeoff and get chances shoot pictures of the reclusive author.

Tapping on the screen, she opened another listing with Tom’s name and it was much of the same. Nice-guy this, great philanthropist that. It showed him with families and children.

But it became obvious – never did he have a date. No girlfriend, no scandal. A boy scout?

Hardly, Tom was toe-curling funny and lovable when they were together. He was just private, no telling the number of women he had dates with.

In fact, she was not even mentioned in any of the web pages. Suggesting that his private lifestyle kept her out of the public eye.

Nodding while she read the web page and noted the lack of information that the world did not know she was his wife. Glenn would not find out that this mistake of a marriage ever happened.

It was…

It… She did not know what “it” was.

Shaking her head.

Kaylee knew what it was.

It was a mistake.

Growling inwardly, which part of this was a mistake? She was starting to second guess herself. She had read enough and sat back.

*Perhaps I’ve read too much?* She blinked her eyes. *I have to digest all this. It is one thing on my phone, but wow. This is so much more.*

Shaking her head, Kaylee stood up with a sigh and walked out the door of the plane. Her feet leading her to her apartment.

*I have to remember, I am mad at him.* She had a soft smile while she walked out of the hangar.

And he made her smile in countless ways.

*I still want the annulment. I love Glenn more than anyone.*

*Pretty sure I do.*

*Perhaps.*

*Maybe.* Then Kaylee cussed for no reason in particular.

Computers, Linux, Windows and no want to play.

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48 hours.  Hitting at it.  I had Windows 7 and Ubuntu Linux in a quad-boot, worked well. Long and pleasant relationship.  Windows ignored Linux while Ubuntu Linux, Gentoo and Arch Linux happily looked and could walk through the MS Windows garden of confusion, plus one virus that stubbornly refused to be deleted on the windows level.

In the Windows level, it was not possible to delete it, so then it’s incarcerated in a locked and “Quarantined” file.

Linux – all flavors – Couldn’t care less, I never bothered to worry about it, it was just a reminder that I am safe while I keep myself as a client and non-admin in the world of the Penguin.  I could lose all my novels if there were a logic bomb and wiped the drive in my section, but the computer itself would remain intact.

And I have the main works here.  You all don’t get the one line novels.

” A lizard that watches the truck drive off the road.” and that’s all there is! Lol. So, thems not in WP library.

However, I digress. The computer in question, the hard drive began to have issues.  Crashing or freezing at random.  Saving a file could be a gamble if it would or would not be corrupted.

Diagnostics were definitive, hard drive had read-write problems.  So I bought a hybrid drive.

Not bad!

Then W7 showed me a darker side. Don’t wanna play with the penguins!

Say whut?  I made a rescue disk– Actually a rescue USB, optical disks are so 20th century. 😉 old tech… And I reinstalled it again.

For your information.  The controlling program, the Master Boot Record “MBR” for short, has only 64 K of memory allocated.  Each partition on a drive is kept in the file of 16k.

This leaves a total of 4 partitions possible. (4×16=64) and this new drive with a section of solid state and very speedy. The MBR has four entries already!

  1. For the MBR. 2. OS. 3.Rescue 4. Program Files

No room for Linux.

So I try to make logical extensions.

And I break windows. o.0

I try to install Linux from inside windows. o.-

Yeah, no fly there.

I install Linux and try to install windows over that.

Yeaaaah…no. *sigh*

Okay.  Once again, format, install windows and try to adjust the partitions and combine two.

Disaster.  I am so pleased I do not have anything to back up.  Not putting any files on there.

Then, in forums that I have read and read and read..until I am green with nausea and blue from lack of movement.  (Actually, cyanosis from not breathing, I keep holding my breath)

I read in one forum, to use easyBCD, what a near disaster, if I had a system that I wanted to save.

First!  It would not launch, only took my computer to a website that “Pay $29.95 for a one time change in partitions.” plus it ships out information for “Quality control, your MBR, file structure…” Already lost me.  Do I trust some faceless creature with snooping on my computer system while I try to make it work?  Nope. I don’t trust politicians, why should I trust a snooping program?

Yeah, and if I bungled it and needed to come back in twelve-hours, I have to fork over another chunk of change? …Yeah, maybe. So no.

Here is where it gets interesting.

You CAN’T uninstall it.  Multiple times, spent three hours, booting and rebooting.  It was sitting there as an icon on the desktop, I used various tricks I know of, plus a few I looked up.  Then got down and dirty in the command-line and deleted it.

But, a few minutes later, the computer acted slow, funky and chunky…then the icon reappeared.

So, my opinion?  Do not use this program! It may not be the classical “Malware” but it certainly refuses to leave when I tell it to. Even Avast antivirus couldn’t kill it.

So, I nuked the system- again.  Completely reformatted and reinstalled and that got rid of it.

So after two days (!!? And I am supposed to be smart!  I have BUILT my own desktops, did a few custom ones, installed Windows, OS/2, Linux, even tinkered on Mac’s when there was an aftermarket allowed.) I have an epiphany.

I did a total wipe, and installed Ubutnu Linux. I don’t use Gentoo or Arch all that much, Backtrack and Knoppix only live in my desk for when I built a computer and wanted to harden it from outside influences.

Then I built, with some challenges, a virtual machine and used it to launch windows.  So now I have it at a point where I am close to where I want to be.

But it is not a true dual-boot.

And Slow?  Pfft… Optical disks even at a speedy 16x still has no comparison to a small, quiet, USB stick that fits nearly flush against the computer.

Upgrades? Ain’t gonna happen with this setup.

So, now as I am sitting here, feeling like I have accomplished an aneurysm and I have entertained you folks ..not at all.. my voices have been pushed out into the backyard while I tackle this project.

And it needed to be done by Monday.  Princess #1 goes off to college, I asked her about her preferences of operating systems.  Windows or Linux?

“LInux, please.  I might need Windows for small things, but I like Linux.”

You got it. So that is now the primary operating system.

If only WIndows would play nice.

Hm… Maybe I can change the master boot record to something a little more current.GUID partition?

Yeah.  But I want to get to writing.  Kolo the Dragon and Jona are languishing.

There are folks that want me to do some critique of their works. (I like doing that , by the way, I just took off on a path of “Now what?” part of life the last ..egad.. probably 8 weeks.. Maybe 12 or more.

Papa Dash, Mama Dash, Sister Sledge, ME, THEN… Oh what now?

Yeah, Mrs Dash is sitting across from me, her heart beating around 180 beats per minute.  I have dosed her with a calcium channel blocker and she has begun to feel better.  So here I sit at 2:35 in the AM, watching her being sat on by a 90 pound fur covered pile of love and checking her with my new (actually old, I remembered it from long ago when I assessed folks on a run) pulse checker. I even listened to her lungs for good measure.

Dang my ears are getting old. lol.

So here she sits in SVT, her heart wants to jump out of her chest and run down the street laughing like Batman’s Riddler.

And I still haven’t’ gotten something to tell you other than blog this.

No vampires, no wolves, no dragons, bots, fairies, gorgons, wizards/witches or archers.

Just a shaking of the head. I am wanting to sit and be willing to open a mic on the computer and talk to you while I am writing down an idea, but now I am feeling like I am the only batter on the baseball team.

I have to go to the men’s room and the other side keeps pitching!

That kind of pressure.

Well, Mrs D is going to bed.  I am going to take a shower and then lay down next to her, I’ll keep my hand on her back to feel her heartbeat. (Yes, you can if you lay quietly.  😀 )

For now, I will just say, that the dust is settling near Papa, Mama, Sister, and such.  I am embarrassed about being taken down to my knees by a grain of sand, if I knew it was that instead of food poisoning, I might have stuck it out.  Maybe not.

That stuff hurts. lol. With capital letters.

Anyway, off to the showers for me. I don’t want her to be alone for too long, not when she is trying for a heart attack. (She refuses to go to the ER for the most part.)  I can stop most illnesses, but there is a limit on what I carry and can do with a pocket knife and a pen.

Keep me in your dreams, I’ll keep you entertained.

Dash.

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta Chapter 6. Log Search

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Chapter 6. Log Search

Fae walked alone with Thea fluttering along next to her.

“You have been quiet for a human. Especially for you.” The mini-bot looked around. “We are farther than we have ever gone, are you disturbed about something?”

Fae shook her head as she walked along in her thoughts.

“No, not something, someone. When we got the order for everyone who would voluntarily go into hibernation or stay on the surface, I talked to my family, everyone accepted the positions in the pods, my husband did too.” The human frowned. “I found my brother’s name, he is in there. So is my mom. But my husband and father are not in the logs. I don’t think they made it, thirty-thousand years, there is no way to find their graves if they died. If they were not buried, their bodies have long gone to dust.”

“We can find out if there was anyone left out in the contaminated atmosphere.” Thea flitted. “I know where the early archived logs are. Early on, humans wore virus-check badges that automatically registered the movements and if they suffered exposure to any contagion.”

“There are logs after so long?”

“Core System deletes nothing. You just need to know where to locate the logs. Core System maintains them deep in fixed archives, written into hardware systems.”

“What do you mean? Hardware systems.”

“It is not a code, the Core System determined that the best storage is writing in hard-wired systems. They cannot be accidentally erased.”

“Let’s go look up the logs, we can compare them to the ones I have seen.”

Following the large artificial dragonfly, Fae walked as fast as she could to keep up.

“Could I get a flyer like you have? Only bigger?”

Thea laughed and slowed down to a human walking pace.

“The size requirements increase exponentially with weight and size.” Thea explained, and drifted off into an engineering lecture that included wing loading, speed of wing flap and size of wings.

It was all beyond engineering that Fae had ever studied. Her studies never covered flight engineering, physics of flight and related math formula.

“So the final answer is that I would have to have one that has a wingspan about double my own arm-span.”

“Blunt, but essentially correct.” The riding mini-bot nodded. “At macro sizes, rotary wings become more efficient than those of Rudy here.”

“Rudy?”

“That’s what I call my flyer.” Thea smiled, her eyes glittered in good humor. “I named him after a company that built powerful engines for waterborne vehicles.”

“Ah.” Fae tried to nod and look wise, having no idea what Thea was talking about. “Good choice.”

They arrived at a building that Thea flitted up, then stopped.

“I don’t know how to get you inside. I fly through the vents normally.”

“Your nanobots maintain everything perfectly, let me try just opening the door.”

She turned the red-metal knob, it felt stiff as if it were not going to give. Then warmed up and pinged.

A built-in panel, flush with the wall. Not visible until the words illuminated “Access Granted.” On the surface.

“That is weird.” She traced her fingers over the panel, it was the same texture as the wall, there was no change, perfect blending of the function and structure.

“This way!” Thea called as she and Rudy the speed happy artificial dragonfly fluttered ahead.

Stopping at a console, they fluttered for a minute and then landed.

“This is the first one we can get to, the access is open. You just log in with your badge.” Thea smiled. “The logs are sequential. No codes, you can scroll all the way back to day-zero.”

“When is day-zero?”

“You will have to tell me. I was not around then.” Thea looked up at the human woman. “But zero is before humans were frozen, no one was frozen then.”

History scrolled by, she stopped zooming forward on video, war information, death counts, virus discovery. Fae closed those and moved her hand through the three-dimensional file system, spinning the virtual clock forward and opened another video file.

Thousands dead.

Closed the video with a sigh.

“How did people die from this?”

“Badly, it was a hemorrhagic virus, it drove people mad after it caused a bleeding in the brain. People would pull off their own ears, claw out eyes, those that did not self-mutilate, they became murderous and turned on others.” Fae shook her head. “It spared anyone with a genetic mutation of four fingers. If there was an accident, and they lost a pinky, it did not matter, the virus targeted only five-finger DNA.”

“I read that it was a four-finger DNA virus.”

“That was the answer the government had, once it was out of the control of the scientists, the two different DNA were going to be wiped out. That was everyone. Only the others that would have had mutations of three or six fingers would survive.”

“How many of those genetic structures were there?”

“On this planet? Too few to survive. We all had to go into hibernation. So the military did a final attack then ordered everyone into pods.” Fae flipped through more files and found the order that she was talking about. “People who refused to go, for health or religious reasons remained unfrozen, but they were all had to live elsewhere.”

She opened a file.

“Oh my god.”

“What?”

“I found my brother, he was one of the first into the pods. Number nine-sixty-two.”

“That would be very near the Core System on the X,Y grid and nearly a kilometer deep on the Z axis.”

“How deep does it go?

“One-hundred meters per hundred pods.” Thea answered. “They go top to bottom, the deepest pods are five-kilometers deep and are leaders of the saved society.”

“My brother is almost one-kilometer deep. That makes him important.”

“Yes, how deep were you?”

“I don’t know, I wasn’t awake.”

“Last in first out.”

“Oh. So I was not that deep.”

“No, your pod was one of the first by the doors.”

“That’s depressing.”

Thea danced through the three-dimensional displays and moved files around on her own power and found what she was looking for.

“Here is yours. The system shows you also had a neurological implant for encoding memory engrams.”

“What? I don’t remember that.”

“Odd. Do you find that you have unexplained knowledge about systems you didn’t know of before?”

“Like this one? Yeah.”

“Do you have an access port?”

“Um. That is a little personal?” Fae laughed. “Sorry. Gutter mind.”

“What is guttermind?”

“Never mind.” She laughed again. “Now let’s find my dad.”

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta Gen 3. Chap. 5. Steel Gardens

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Gen 3. Chapter 5. Steel Gardens

*This is incredible* Amsi looked around and shook his head.

“This is…” The view, challenged the map in his hand. Where the military put weapons into storage. Aircraft, tanks, missiles, cannons up to and included the “God Gun” self-propelled guns with the bore large enough to hold a fighter jet.

Projectiles stacked according to the map.

All transformed. Nanobots, stripped down the machines of war, atom by atom and constructed such things of beauty that his eyes took in colors of the entire spectrum.

Flowers, trees, all made of impervious armor, reconstituted and retasked.

“These old designs copied the cellular structure,” Thea flitted around. “The differences that the plants and flowers do not procreate, but they filter the air, toxins flow through the leaves and flowers, pure air comes out the other side,  the molecular thin leaves catalyze toxins  and restructure them to inert or completely different biodegradable molecules. Another is the inactivation of virions by destruction of the capsids that hold the virus together, then the DNA and RNA is disassembled into simple amino acids.”

“What kinds of virus and toxin things are we talking about?” Fae asked.

“Plague virus is no longer detected, last viral body with that DNA was last registered thousands of years ago. Cyanide compounds were, for example, reconstituted into nitrogen, carbon and oxygen.”

“Where are the weapons, the explosives and such?”

Thea laughed, the sound reminded Amsi of wind chimes.

“You are walking on most of it. We enhanced the soil with iron and potassium. Nitrogen from explosives we fixed in the soil for plant use as natural fertilizers”

“Amazing. We go to sleep in a war-world and we wake up in paradise?”

“There are still things to process. In years when the Core Systems developed minibots, there was a catastrophe failure in a casing, it leaked radioactive material all over the place. Nanos and micros worked for years and disassembled heavy atoms into stable isotopes. Over a billion, billion, billion were destroyed by the radiation, but we kept working. It is in our programs.”

“Are any of the plants organic or is it all metal based life?”

“Organic plant life makes up an overwhelming major part of the groundcover. Metal-based life, including silicon and printed at the Core Systems, is less than five-percent of the total forms. Organic life has one thing metalloid based does not.” She flitted around. Looking for an example of what she was trying to show them, then pointed. “That!”

A flower had gone to seed, a tall dandelion based plant with a snowball puff shape to the end of the stem. Small seeds floated on the air.

“Metal life does not adapt or spread on its own. We’re limited, humans, organics, you are all fascinating. And Fae said you have something called children?”

“Something?” It was Amsi’s turn to laugh. “Yes, children are the result of humans being together for very long.”

Looking along the buildings, Amsi shook his head.

*Straight and right-angles, every structure. A very digital look and design.* He looked around. *Busy things these bots are.*

Fae shook her head.

“This area is beautiful. When I walked along here before we went into hibernation, it was lined with metal recycle yards for destroyed weapons, they worked all hours.”

“That was a horrid time.” He shook his head.

“What happened? That was the time before bots.” Thea asked as she led the way along a beautiful park-like setting.

“There was once a group that worshipped death. They wanted death for everyone that did not follow their Core Systems.”

“Their Core System?” Thea shook her head.

“It was their god. It led them to create the virus to kill everyone with five digits.”

“But the virus to kill all with four digits was also in the air. That’s documented.”

“Yes. Following the commands of machines, built by humans and programmed by the same, the humans gave power to the machines.”

“Then you would not take us as being friendly.” Thea observed.

“Some might have problems, but I don’t.”

“And, by extension. We might have bots that would view humans as a threat.”

“That stands to reason, if you are independent. You make up your own minds?”

“For the most part. We choose based on our experiences and freedom of choice. So yes, there are those that view humans as dangerous.” Thea’s voice had a distinct sad tone.

He shook his head.

“There are those in every group.”

“Most of those,” Thea added. “Are the Macros, only one Mega has come forth and claimed superiority. Megabot Lima-Bravo Nine-A even felt it was superior to gravity. It used math that it was not programmed for to prove it could overcome gravity without the use of reactive thrusters, that massive lifter had wings built on request to the Core Systems. The Systems warned Lima-Bravo Nine-A that it was not possible to build such wings.” Thea hung her head. “With wings on, that big bot took a leap out into the area known as Crater 12-B, a small crater with a minor gravitational anomaly, the rim is a thousand-meters of vertical, unobstructed stone.”

“What happened?” Fae’s eyes were big.

“We have Crater 12-LB9A now. Core Systems registered the impact as a seismic disturbance. The new crater is nearly a hundred-meters across and ten-meters deep. That bot’s systems were all recycled, it became a small forest of atmospheric conditioners, removing toxic by-products of war.”

Amsi laughed then apologized.

“Humans are given to such failures, too. There was once a fellow who put wings on his arms and jumped from a tower structure in a city called Paris. Too bad it was a failure. He made a dent into frozen ground. Franz Rechelt was his name, a lesson in my engineering school on how not to test new designs. Pity we cannot recycle our fellows failures like your megabot. However, I think we are much alike, bots and organics.”

Thea smiled.

*we are, indeed.* Keeping that moment of pleasure in her digital heart for all her days.

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta Generation 3. Chapter 4. Awakenings

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Gen 3. Chapter 4. Awakenings

“Ugh.” His mouth felt like someone stuck an old, used gym-sock in it. Then the pain hit. He tried to squeak again, but his tonsils complained loudly. His voice squeaked like fingernails on a chalkboard. His throat was on fire.

“Amsi. Shhh.” It was a familiar voice. “You will need some hydration, here is some warm water with honey and lemon.”

The first swallow was painful, but heaven followed close behind the swallow. The honey settled on the surface of his throat and put out the fire, the citrus hit, but the pain produced was, while not pleasant, tolerable and worked in concert with the honey for relief.

“Thank you…” Damn! He forgot her name. She was one of his crew, but not one of the engineers.

“Fae.” This was a different voice. Smaller, but with authority and nearby. “Her name is Fae.”

Amsi’s eyes took longer to focus than he thought it should.

“Slowly.” Doctor Ofir’s voice still sounded strange in his ears. “You have been sedated for two days after taken out of stasis. You have spent the last thirty-millenia at just under three-degrees Kelvin.”

“Thirty? We were only supposed to sleep for ten years. What happened?” He blinked again, sipping on the tea of honey and lemon. His eyes focusing more. “What the f..”

He paused.

“No offense but … what are you?”

“We are mini’s. Minibots. You set out to avoid the virus’ that the other system created in the ancient times, created nanobots to recycle all the machines of war. They are still around, but from them, the Core Systems evolved many more sizes.”

“Amsi, I will explain later.”

“I’m still wrapping my head around this… Robot? And how it evolved so quickly.”

“They call themselves “Bots”. They are an evolution that has happened over thousands of years, so not as swift as you think.”

“Wait.” Amsi shook his head, information was not processing. “What?”

“You need some more tea, maybe a shot of rum or vodka. I have a lot to bring you up to speed on.”

For the next two hours Fae spoke of three-hundred centuries, Core System, Thea, the Doctor, the tens of thousands of flitting artificial life forms outside the window that existed with great alloys of the machines of war that the people left sitting out when all, what the Core System logs called “Organics” went into cryogenic vitrification.

Reanimation, the Fae showed Amsi the logs, was a complicated, careful and exacting process using the nanobots and microbots and replacing the cryoprotectants that did not crystallize in ultra-low temperatures.

Even with helium as a superfluid, the crystals of ice did not form and poke holes in the cell walls of the body.

Such was the theory.

Initial numbers used, predictions estimated that one or two may not survive the freezing. (Mathematically, there would be a loss of 1.48 of the personnel.) Estimations were only for a single decade, after three-thousand times longer than anticipated, logs indicated forty-two pods showed excess cryoprotectant in the helium.

The bodies were leaking.

Nanobots, unable to function at such low temperatures were on standby.

However, after a long time, the Core Systems estimated that greater than half the fluids of the organic bodies had leached out. Rendering the humans inside little more than extremely cold, desiccated mummies.

Amsi moaned on the information she passed onto him.

“We were never meant for that length of storage. The system was never designed for that long of operation without supervision.”

“We supervised.” Thea fluttered about. “All systems were under the control of the Core System. Repairs performed by all the bots.”

“There were no qualified humans to oversee the machines.” Amsi the engineer argued.

“Sir. The bots here are as capable as anyone I have seen. They can repair cells and lift whole buildings with the megabots. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they can do what we could.” Fae frowned and pulled at her ear.

“The logs show my brother now weighs less than his clothes. There is only liquid helium in his veins now, as soon as he’s taken out, he’ll crumble like dried out leaf.”

“He still has a PICC line, like we all do.” Fae said. “We can infuse more into it in the chamber, correct?”

“No, I don’t know.” He shook his head. “Maybe. Could be. If we warmed him up to, say, four Kelvin? Special IV tubing would remain flexible and we could flow cryoprotectant into him and refill all the cells over the course of a few days and displace the helium. The helium would be at the boiling point and easy to replace.”

“What if we just replace his fluids as we warmed him up?” She asked.

“No, helium would be gone before any glucose or blood solutions would make it into his body, the cells would collapse like dried out eggshells the moment there is any pressure to refill them.” He rubbed his chin. “That’s not even medical, that is structural engineering. Right now, helium is supporting everything. It has to be a two-stage rehydration. Maybe three.”

“Okay. We warm him up first?”

“No. Oh no. We get the medical teams out first. Just because I understand the process, does not mean I understand the biological effects. What if he has a hole in something important? I can’t sew it up.”

“Oh, I understand.”

“So engineers first, medical folk second, so engineers can make things work, the ones marked here in red, they are last. Medical will need to deal with them as a team with the… What did you call them? Nanobots? But there will need to be a teamwork between everyone. Artificial or Organic.”

“Thank you.” Thea smiled as she sat up in her saddle.

“Thank me for what?”

“You acknowledged us as living beings and are part of a team. Even our nanos.”

“Miss… Uh. “

“Thea.”

“Miss Thea. You make it easy.”

“No. Just Thea.”

“Okay, Just Thea.” He smiled. “You make it easy to feel you are real and alive. We have been here to seek contact with new life. Even if we build it.”

Thea laughed.

“My full name is Wentvie Thea. Our second name is given, our family name comes first.”

“My apologies.” Amsi winked. Then Thea knew she was victim of a human sense of humor. “I will refer to you only as Thea or Miss Wentvie.”

She laughed. It sounded like tiny windchimes.

*Humans waking up,* she felt, *A good thing.*

Gen 3. Chapter 2. Amsi Idd-Tejo

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Gen 3. Chapter 2. Amsi Idd-Tejo

Hours passed. Fae tapped on the keyboard, swearing because her fingers were not fully working right.

“You have to give yourself a chance, your bone marrow is barely producing red-blood cells.” Thea said as she used a small object that Fae assumed was a kind of scanner.

“How does that work?”

“Since the intravenous infusions, you have nanobots of medical programming in you. They answer to this syscheck request. They are repairing cellular damage as you are moving around.”

“I have… bots inside me? What?” Fae stopped and looked at the Minibot, for the first time, the colors seemed more natural. Thea was shaped like a human, even if her eyes were a golden color.

“Yes, they are medical Nanobots, in seven days they will inactivate and be passed out of your body, unless we administer more.” Thea said as if it was a normal thing.

“I don’t like that thought.” Fae shook her head. “Oh! Here. I found him, there is a problem in the reactivation sequence, it is locked in a diagnostic loop.”

“What’s that?”

“Helium is refreshed and re-sampled every few minutes. A temperature sensor is giving a corrupted data. The system is recycling and producing liquid helium… How is it getting power?”

“We have maintained all needs of the Core Systems.”

“Oh, right.” Fae blinked and sat back. “Do your nanobots do all the maintenance?”

“Most of it, Microbots do a lot, too. Nanobots perform repairs the Micros can’t reach. Micros do things for Nanos faster and on a larger scale.”

“Hm. Okay. Then they have kept the cryogen production intact. That saves a lot of issues.” Fae nodded as she tapped a command. “It is still locked. I will have to issue a kill command and restart it.”

“Kill? Don’t you want to keep him alive?” Thea’s voice sounded alarmed. For an artificial life form, a tiny robot, she exhibited emotions and personality.

“This just interrupts the program so it can start normally. Otherwise we have to go down there and do it physically.”

“I can instruct Micros to do it. Even a Macro if you need a lever pulled.”

“No levers, there is a single button down there that will need to be pushed and held down for… Wait. Wait! Got it.” Fae smiled. “It is corrected and the thaw procedures are in effect. How long did it take for me to come out of hibernation?”

“Thirty-one thousand…”

“No no, after the Core Systems took me out of the helium capsule.”

“Oh, it was ninety-six hours before you took your first breath and your core temp allowed for cellular respiration. We used a lot of synthetic oxygenated fluids, moist, warmed oxygen.” Thea said. “The nanobots worked at maximum capacity, there were signs of damage, but nothing critical caused by length of time, all the damage was due to by freezing. Your process was not perfect, and ice crystals poked a lot of holes in things.”

“Is that why I am so weak?” Fae stood up. “Let’s go back to the medical department.”

“No, weakness is from a lack of use, the fibers have gotten stiff and your processing of glucose and glycogen is altered. A lot of carbon is building up as lactic acid.” Thea said as she buzzed around Fae as the two moved down the hallway. “But your system has improved cellular by nearly double. You will be back to what we estimate as normal in thirty-six hours. We still have to watch your kidney function.”

“Why my kidneys?”

“Too much strain too soon.” Thea said. “We could fix it, but always better to prevent it. Lots easier to keep things going than to start them from total breakdown.”

“You say it like I am a machine.”

“You are. Just organic circuitry instead of printed in a machine.”

Fae laughed at the philosophical Minibot. Thea was like a know-it-all little sister. And it tickled in a good way to think of Thea like that and Fae liked that thought.

“Thea, what will they do with Mr. Idd-Tejo?”

“Well, first is to warm the patient so the cryogenic liquid becomes less viscous, then start an infusion of fluorocarbon…”

“Enough. I don’t need the details, just the basics. I am not a medical person.”

“Oh. Well, we warm him up slowly and then start the nanobots and blood infusion when he gets warm enough.”

“I want to watch it all.”

“Of course, I think the Doctor would let you watch. But you will need to sleep. You still need observervation for your kidneys and blood values. Your marrow is still shocked and recovering from being in deep freeze.” Thea advised the human woman.

“What is in there.” Fae stopped and looked down a hallway that was new looking. “I don’t remember that part of the building.”

“This is the place were the Core System directs sub systems to build all bots. Except for the Mega’s. Printers build their parts here, but then transported to another building for treatment to make them stronger. Building a Megabot is power consuming and has only a limited application. Macrobots are printed in parts and then assembled by bot arms on an assembly table.”

“And you are assembled the same way?”

“No, Minibots come right out of the printer. We get organic flesh, it is found that the larger Microbot up to Minibot can benefit from organic material, we have a tactile interface that the other bots cannot use properly.”

“I see, I think.” Fae pulled at her ear. “You are more of a Cyborg.”

“Cyborg?” Glitter the dragonfly pulled up when Thea turned her head. Then patted the metallic insect ride. “Sorry. I yanked on you.”

“Cybernetic organism.” Fae smiled, having information that the little Minibot did not have. A rare event with the know-it-all.

“I will have to consult the Core System when I am on my down time to recharge.”

“You recharge?”

“Not in the way you might think. It is a kind of sleep, it is not programmed, we consume hydrogenated carbons, then we have to sit still while the Nanos and Micros inside us turn it into energy. It’s a symbiotic relationship, but a narrow application.” Thea flitted past her larger friend. “The small bots can’t be used for anything else, they inactivate when they are outside our bodies. It is a mutation that the Core Systems don’t have an answer for.”

Fae shook her head. These bots may have a synthetic birth, life existed in the electronic hearts.

*What a strange world.* Fae smiled at the thought.

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta Generation 2. Waking Naked

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Generation 2. Waking Naked

The first thing she felt, was cold. And her arms felt heavy, like someone hung bags of sand on them, or gravity had increased.

Fae R. MacLir slowly became aware of a bright light shining directly into her eyes.

TWO bright lights, but her eyes did not want to focus on anything.

Holding her hand in front of her face, she nearly had to touch her nose with the flat of her palm before it came into focus.

“About 20/500.” She noted with a sigh. “I’m blind.”

She put her hand down on the table, the appendage felt like it weighed as much as all the machinery that filled the room around her, combined.

She became aware that she was under warming blankets on a firm bed, the room felt small and warm, slightly more than body-temperature. Warm air was blowing through the tubes built into the blanket that covered her, and she was shivering.

While the temperature warmed her, a voice, tiny but sounded like it was booming in the room.

“Warm fluids, she will be dehydrated, administer isotonic electrolytes, buffer it and prevent alteration her pH level. Infuse slowly over an hour and continue warming protocols.” A pause, slight clicking sounds as if someone were tapping on keys. “Keep me in the data loop. We need to find out why this happened.”

She looked around for the source of the voice, but saw no one, becoming aware of what looked like bugs flying in the air, close to her face.

*Must be a field hospital with a window open* She thought to herself.

She ranked as an engineer’s assistant, she was twenty-years old and would be among the first of the awakened, with the chief engineer, Amsi Idd-Tejo, they would supervise the awakening of the governing leaders.

But, she could not see him. Her focus was improving, in the glass walled room, there were four beds, besides her own, all were empty.

She was the only one awake.

“Who…” Her throat felt like someone sanded it with broken glass and salt. Then whispered. “Ah! Who else?”

Silence, except for a buzzing. Sounded organic. More bugs, the flying pest control protocols had failed.

Then a voice, it sounded as if it the speaker stood next to her ear.

“You are the first. Viral bodies stayed in the environment longer than the time originally anticipated.” The small but very close voice said. “The Core Systems chose you, no one else. We don’t know why.”

She turned her head, slowly. The movement making her dizzy, and her life changed forever.

In front of her barely functioning eyes, a gold and silver… something… hovered. Barely as tall as her thumb, the eyes looked back at her and blinked with oversized eyes.

“The doctor is on his way,” The tiny, fluttering creature spoke just loud enough for her to hear. “He stepped out to see to another alarm on the Core Systems.”

“Who,” She paused. “Or what are you?”

“I am Thea.” Her golden-eyes glittered and caught the lights that illuminated the room on the face that looked as if someone carved her from an emerald gem. “I am a minibot. Who are you?”

“A what?” The human girl asked. “I am Fae MacLir, an assistant electrical engineer and tech support in SCOTOC.”

“I am Physicians Apprentice, Abu Thea.” She fluttered with a smile. “You can call me Thea. I’m not a doctor yet, I’m only halfway through.”

“IF you survive.” A deeper voice, but still sounding as if from an earphone from a distance. “You still have a lot to learn.”

“Good evening Miss MacLir, I’m Doctor Ofir Bhabel. You no doubt have some questions, we have a good many questions ourselves. Not the least of which, do you feel?”

The little… Minibot? That said her name was Thea, landed on the edge of Fae’s field of view.

“What is going on? Who are you?” Fae asked. “And a Doctor? Of what?”

“What is SCOTOC?” A silver-winged, gloss-blue creature lit along side Thea and smiled as the questions overlapped each other. “First, I will answer you. I am your physician, I supervised your awakening. You can call me Bel. You were the first to be awakened by the Core System.”

“I don’t understand.” The human said in a whisper. “My head hurts, I’m dizzy.”

“That is a consequence of the length of time you were in stasis, you were in a helium bath that supercooled your body.” The blue fairy seemed to shimmer in her eyes. “You have a case of brain-freeze, your body temperature is still less than normal, your core temperature is still thirty-two celsius, but you are warming at a good rate. I am pleased with the protocols written by your people.”

She ran her hands over her body, under the blankets, “I’m naked?”

“No, you have a warming blanket over your body and you are in a capsule, warming you with infrared heat and warm air, you are naked inside of it, and the blanket is transparent to infrared.”

“You talk funny.”

Doctor Ofir blinked twice.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your voice. It has an electronic buzz in it, a slight dissonance caused by a code error. It’s minor but nothing I can’t fix.” She said rubbing her eyes. “Everything seems oddly colored and it feels like a dream. You look like little fairies.”

“We are minibots. Humans built our ancestors, but in much smaller scale. They were nanobots, and after time, the Core Systems determined that the most efficient use for the planet was to increase sizes. Microbots were built. Then millibots, then our kind are officially designated as minibots. Macrobots are generally outside, do not fly and are few. There is a point of diminishing return the bigger bots get. The greatest numbers are nanos, followed by the minis, we are the best sizes.”

“The doctor talks too much.” Thea said. “You have a lot to catch up on, hun.”

“You called me… Hun?” Fae said. “Can I get some clothes? Even inside this little oven-thing you have built, I am uncomfortable just laying here. It feels heavy, like I have no strength. This was not supposed to be this way, they said we would not notice any changes in sensation.”

Thea and the Doctor looked at each other.

“Fae MacLir, there are no clothes in this facility for your size.” The Doctor said. “But I will leave it to Thea to search. You are an unexpected presence in our society. The humans have a story in the database of a man who traveled a long ways by the name of Gulliver.” The Doctor looked at her. “You are a giant among us.”

“Doctor.” Thea interrupted, tapping on the side of her head. “There are storage areas for hazardous materials response the humans built. I think those had clothes for humans.”

“Good. Go check that, use my authority to have a team go with you and transport any clothes that would fit this human.” The Doctor nodded. “Providing we cannot get her to overcome the archaic restrictions of being nude.”

Thea flew off so fast, she was a blur and a flash as she exited the window.

“Excuse, me.” Fae spoke up. “I’m right here. And I’m not about to walk around in my birthday suit. I could get in trouble.”

“You may be excused.” The Doctor answered. “And you must also know, there is no one to make you feel uncomfortable. You are the only human on the planet that is not immersed in helium, partly dehydrated and filled with glycerin to protect cellular structure in stasis.”

Turning her head away from them, Fae took a deep breath.

“How is it that I am the first one awakened?”

“The Core Systems chose you. The criteria are unknown.”

A noise of footsteps sounded. A macrobot, about four feet tall with four legs moved in an eerie grace, carrying a black folded object that looked like vacuum-packed bags.

The eight eyes on four stalks were more akin to a lizards, moving independent of each other watching all points of the compass at the same time. The washing machine sized bot deposited its cargo on a table and departed without a sound.

Thea landed and with a smile reported to the Doctor.

“Extreme mobility, hostile environment protection suit. The voice interface called it a EMHEP suit” Thea said proudly. “The computer interface worked perfectly. And it is in her size with her name.”

“Her name?”

“She has her own wardrobe listed.”

“I would like to get up.”

“I would recommend against that, you haven’t stood on your own feet for thirty-thousand years.”

“I…” Fae shook her head. “I didn’t hear that right. You say that again, please?”

“I would advise you…”

“No, no. The years. You said thirty-thousand.”

“Yes, I rounded for your sake.” The Doctor nodded as he walked along the edge of the platform that served as her warming capsule. “You’ve been in stasis for thirty-one-thousand, two-hundred eighty-four summer solstices.

“Holy crap!” She pushed open the heating capsule’s cover and sat up, her skin felt warm, but she was still cold. Muscles trembled when she stood. “That is why I am weak.”

Then paused as she pulled the heating blanket close around her, Thea unplugged the heat tubes so Fae could walk.

“And I am hungry!”

“You would need to eat carefully, the digestive system has nothing in it, we will give you enough flora to live in your intestines so you can live on the proteins you will consume.” The Doctor motioned to a macrobot standing in the corner that moved off out of sight.

“How do you do that?”

The Doctor looked at her and smiled.

“Get dressed, we will get you a glass of synthetic milk. Your organs of digestion will be as weak as your legs.”

Fae nodded. She was trembling at every step to the table where her clothes were, naked and chilled with every breeze, the hair on her arms stood on end.

“What is that?” Thea asked, pointing to the piloerected hair. “Why are you fuzzy?”

“Humans get that way when we are cold.”

“You are still hypothermic.” The Doctor said. “You will have another hour with shivering. I ordered your drink warm, so that will help.”:

“If I am so cold and I’m not shivering. Why?”

“I don’t know, precisely, you should have crossed the threshold but the Core System says that you have been in stasis for so long, there is no data. There is no precedent. But your core temperature still shows thirty-two celsius, you might still be too cold still.”

Fae lifted up the pile of clothes, a black body suit slide over her legs and torso, then black ceramic plates that contoured to her bodysuit. The memory of her being fitted for the metal-infused laminated ceramic plates that fit on the soft spider-silk bodysuit like scales.

It was comfortable and warm. Even the socks she wore felt strong, but the shoes were little more than slippers with ceramic scales and looked funny.

Reading the paper that came in the package, the suit was an electrical insulator, she would wear it to work on the systems. The uniform had the badge molded in with a different color of ceramic, and she had a computer access key.

She would find out why the Core Systems awakened her on a planet six-times the size of Earth.

Alone.

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta: Prologue

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I don’t often write BACKWARDS, but in this case, after writing “Generation 1.” The back story came to me.  I don’t like doing it this way, but ladies and gents, it is what happens when I give you my soul to the dozen (plus or minus) of you who read what I post. Sometimes it is out of order.  I’ll catch it next time on the edit and put it to order.

For now, I give you (First draft, so it is crap, sorry, final draft may not even be close to this.):

Steel Gardens  of Anid-Sta: Prologue 

In the year 2,952 After Niska, the leader and founder of the planet colony that grew in the nearly three-thousand years to one-hundred six billion citizens, the Csu, a religious sect founded by the prophet of the Lord Qat-Csu developed the political system that began at the remote corners of the planet the century before.

Missionaries moved through villages of farmers promising that the Lord Qat-Csu would bring sufficient rains for the colonies in the back country. In the years that followed, a small and dedicated group of followers preached to anyone, anywhere giving testimony to the power and glory of the Lord of rain and plentiful harvest. Qat-Csu brought rain and plenty to all those that followed. The true followers of Qat-Csu were required to have the small fingers of the left hand amputated and their DNA modified so that offspring would be born without the appendage. Failure to do so, marked one as not a true follower and suffered denials of rain and good harvest.

Those that received good rains but were not true followers would be found guilty of heresy and have all the harvest taken on the word of the ruling Cahir, the high priests of the church of Qat-Csu.

In the generations that followed, resistance grew as the word of Qat-Csu, interpreted by corrupt Cahir of the religion caused a rift. The rift grew between the factions, each claiming to follow the true path commanded by Qat-Csu.

Claiming that the growing splinter group were apostates, calling themselves simply Csu and they did not believe that amputations of fingers as an answer to anything.

The Cahir of the Qat-Csu enlisted a fanatical genius who bio-engineered a virus to target carriers of five-finger DNA and delivered by missiles and drones to the centers of populations of the un-enlightened and the apostates. A disillusioned scientist stole samples of the virus and leaked information to the intended victims at the cost of his life.

DNA bioengineers for the splinter-group of the Csu modified the virus genetic coding to target four-fingered mutations.

The following war was a biologic nightmare. Missiles passed each other in mid-flight. A blow for each of their gods and included the non-combatants in collateral damage.

No one came away unaffected, in the struggle to dominate as the only religion, they contaminated an entire world six-times the diameter of the earth with a fraction of the density.

In the attack, the virus was more successful than Grey D’Gran the biologist that mutated the fragments of genes imagined in his darkest dreams.

Ninety-seven percent of the population died outright in fever-induced seizures. After a year, the ravages of the fever, fewer than ten-thousand survived out of more than a hundred billion.

The religion of death survived until the end, when the last remaining Cahir walked down the path explaining the prophet of no name died of his own hand.

Looking into the eyes of his Hukis, students of the religion of Qat-Csu, he spoke haltingly as a man with a broken soul.

“The Lord Qat-Csu that speaks only to the prophet.” The hazel eyes of a farmer-come-priest wept. “Is a machine a… computer programmed by a man.”

Called a blasphemer by his adepts murdered him with a golden candlestick. They burned the Cahir’s body and threw his bones into a river.

One by one, the remaining followers turned on each other, the final three finding their demise in one evening as they fought over how to bless the last meal of the day.

Peace settled on the dead planet, but life assumed to be extinct, found a way.

 The machines of war, lined up at the ready before the biologic attack, now sat with the patience of machines. Machines that waited in this world of corrosion resistant metal and ceramic when life took hold.

The steel gardens, lived.

Shock and Awe Chapter 13. Waiting Room

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Chapter 13. Waiting Room

Choking, face stinging, Leslie Murrie was still trying to catch her breath when the captain of the division walked up.

“Report.” Jevv Smith said in a no-nonsense tone. The eyes of the man glittered in the dark, reflecting the flashing lights of ambulance, fire and law enforcement light-bars.

“The unknown male just kicked our asses. The unsub has booby-trapped the waiting room. There were two grenades on the ceiling we didn’t know about. They are visible through the window now.”

“Why didn’t you see them before?” Captain Smith shook his head. “Do you need glasses?”

“Smoke, sir. The room was full of it.” She felt like a child called to the principal’s office. “Military grade and stun grenades like I have never seen. They kept going off.”

“Seriously? Maybe he tossed more in?”

No sir, definite multiple discharge from a single grenade.”

“Never heard of such a that.”

“Same here, until tonight.” She nodded. “But the casings are in there. There were two kinds of flashes I think, but all were effective.”

“Okay, Sergeant. Head over to the EMS stations and have them check you out, you look like you have chicken pox.” Captain Smith looked her  face over.

“Yes, sir.” She touched her face and winced.

“Officer Holmes.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Find him, I want his ass. Use your dogs.”

“Yes, sir.” Stephanie Holmes said and walked off to her team.

“Cry havoc!” She whispered as she walked with purpose to her mission, then into the microphone of her radio. “Let loose the dogs on this son of a…”  

Listening to the radio, Officers Archer, Easton and Martin brought the dogs to the front door of the lobby and made a quiet entry, the dogs noses sniffing out in every corner of the room for a scent that might help in tracking the unsub.

Bomb specialist Oscar “Os” Greene moved through the K-9 units, declaring  the room clear of explosives. His hand-sized remote-controlled camera, his spy on mini-wheels had discovered one more grenade set to roll out into the middle of the mens room when they made entry.  The unsub did not leave lethal weapons behind, but it was all a delay tactic.

Captain Smith got the report that the waiting room was clear, the teams were making entry into hallways and both directions in the stairwell.

“Report.” The voice of the Chief echoed in the mobile command center. “Where is Captain Smith?” 

“Sir, he will be right here, we called him to the command post.” The blond woman said. Chief Whiting recognized her from the department baseball team. “Crush” If he remembered, for how hard she hit the ball with a bat. 

Captain Smith walked up to the Chief and the two men exited the command post to sit inside the Chief’s car where Captain Smith apprised him of the situation.  Chief Whiting sat and nodded while Jevv described the three layers of protection, the distance they had pushed public and press back. 

“No one that we do not know can cross anywhere without being spotted. He is inside, even if he is hiding on the roof, we will have a helicopter with a mini-sun in a few minutes. There is no way out.”

“Good job, Jevv.” The Chief nodded. “Do we have it narrowed down where he is?”

“Reports of shooting in dispatch, we have three teams, one team each heading down the two elevators, one team making entry from the stairwell. He has nowhere to go. We will get him.”

But despite the best efforts and the arrival of the helicopter overhead, the mountain man with the flintlock was never found. The only evidence he left of his entry was a bar code from a cereal box and tatters of paper from a string of firecrackers he dropped as a diversion during the smoke screen.

No other damage was obvious. The only damage to the building was the massive twin lead slugs that broke the bulletproof barrier and the officer shot by one of their own.

In the days that followed during the investigation, they discovered the hardcopy records destroyed in the most secure area of the department. 

The man was a ghost. The HR Department reproduced new records from the mainframe, no other damage could be discovered.  It was curious way the paper products in the cabinet of Human Resources had become dust over a weekend. 

Lucky they had a computer system to fall back on. 

Lucky, indeed.

 

Shock and Awe Chapter 10. Uplifting Experience

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Chapter 10. Uplifting Experience

Radio Check nearly dropped the vent in the room of the mainframe, stopping the swing of the metal by the tips of his fingers and pulled it shut just as he saw the officer walk by the window. Her shadow stopped and he knew she was coming back to look.

She saw it.

*Damn. Maybe she didn’t know what she saw.*  It was more of a prayer than plan. This annoyed him, so far, everything went to plan, except for a loose hinge.

He crawled back to the service hatch at the elevator shaft, as he opened the man-sized grate, he could hear the verbal commands that squad leaders were given to the men while they were holding the elevator door. They still did not know where he was, this was in the plus column for the mission. One officer, wounded in the crossfire when he dropped the firecrackers as a distraction, this went in the minus column. Getting officers hurt was not according to plan, most uniforms were honest and honorable. They were not his targets.

*Stinger grenades not counting.* The thought moved through his mind as he moved over to the positive pressure side of the system and opened the hatch. The inflated fabric balloon had done its job and now was time to retire it.

Pulling a boot-knife, he sliced the material and stuffed it in his backpack, restoring the airflow to the lower levels and data center to prevent overheated electronics, possibly causing a reloading of the operating system.

Closing the service hatch, he slipped back into the air return and made his way to the elevator shaft, fully opening the service entrance, he listened again.  The elevator was empty, someone held the door open, talking with another. Stepping gingerly on the steel supports that anchored the box of the elevator car. He squatted down and became part of the machine.

“C’mon, Russ. You are doing okay, just in the car.”

He could hear the woman’s voice clearly.

“I’m so sorry I shot you. Really.”

Friends? Partners? It made him smile. Either way, if the shot officer was a good enough man, they would become closer friends.

Radio Service laughed inwardly, the only outside appearance of his humor was a smile nearly hidden under his long beard. He was a cupid in a twisted sense of the phrase.

The difficult part now accomplished. The mission plan held an option if he chose and had the time, he could stop at basement level-1 and create even greater havoc for the police, but he had nothing against the good officers of the SWAT team. The elevator slowed and came to a stop on the main floor. More swat team stepped into the lift. Listening to them talk, they knew he was no longer in the bathroom.

Yeah, time to leave. Operating in the heart of their operation now was a game of chance. Thus far, there was nothing left to chance. Other than the officer shot by his partner, all went according to plan. The Swat level was only an option if time and events looked positive. He was disinclined to damage anything there anyway.  The special loads for the firearms will wait for another day.

Stepping off the elevator car as it began its descent to the dispatch level, he hung on to the service ladder in the shaft.

Four floors of a ladder climb ahead of him.

Well, three and a half, he would enter into the return vent on the top floor and access the human resources office.

Second floor, detectives level. He should try to figure out something to do there. But— it was not in the plans, the team already had control of computer files, so he kept climbing.

Third floor. An option to enter, Commanders, Vice-chief’s office general admin. Nearly all of it on computer. Access was already granted. He would spend far more time looking for tiny bits of information that did not pay them back in benefits.

Cost versus benefit at this point. The cost was too much time versus the risk of capture.

Fourth floor. Chief of Police, Fire Chief, Doctor General of EMS.  Files that were still on paper. Physical access to the stand-alone system that belonged only to the administration and the round table of officers of their particular departments.

White lithium grease on hinges, a careful opening of the vent covering, he stepped back into the world of steel tunnels. This one was smaller by about a third. He could not sit straight up, but he could recline comfortably if he chose to.

A first look. A secretary type office. File cabinets, locked with a simple combination padlock, the type that had a keyhole in back.

Worth a look. He tagged the inside of the plenum with a yellow flashing LED light and moved on.

Sliding his thin camera down the vent, he looked at another office. The Chief of Police worked here. A massive desk, sumptuous decor. Pictures on the wall. Books everywhere. A long table on the far side of the room. But a dead-end.

He looked another few meters down. There was another corner. He looked at the Chief’s office again. Nope. There was no room or vestibule to call for a vent.

He army-crawled to the corner and then to the downward bend, he slipped his snake-eye through the vent. There, a computer. He could see network cables leading along the floor under the desk. But it was not a city issued piece of hardware.

He pondered a moment, this was a top-of-the-line recent computer. This was the Chief’s personal computer.

Excellent!

Twisting the camera around, there were small fabric-covered speaker cabinets at four points at the ceiling where the wall met the ceiling.

No, not speakers.

Video cameras.

*Oh, quite sly, Chief, quite sly.* Radio Check smiled without humor.

Pulling out his tablet, he opened up a sniffer program and let it run for a few minutes. He was ahead on the timetable so he could spare the minutes.

Before the uniforms began a floor by floor sweep, he would still be gone and they would have layers of cordons around the block to look for him.

This group never just sealed a block. They sealed a block three times normally. One might slip through a single line of cops, but the Croix Bay police? It was a minimum of three levels. They had their fair share of fugitives running from other law enforcement. No-one slipped past them, they always got their man. CBPD officers were well-trained, motivated and intelligent, bordering on brilliant.

Well, except for tonight. Around the building they would have all the available patrols. This is right where he wanted them. Running around in the basement, playing war with shadows while he was in the Chief’s personal entertainment system.

Maybe. He was watching the sniffer.

There! A spike in broadcast. A handshake. Data transmitted back and forth.

He sent a corrupted packet, knocking the wifi connection off. The item logging into the computer would fail and need to retry.

And it did. Two times, three times. He used a machines patience against itself.

Then he had a break. The complete log in sequence from the cameras. While the camera cycled for yet another attempt to log into the computer, he logged in using the camera’s MAC and identifier.

Although he was in the air duct, he now had control of the computer as if he was sitting at the keyboard.

Intercepting the camera signal, he successfully logged it into his tablet and download the images it had stored. One picture per minute. High resolution. Radio Check nodded, not an unreasonable setup, except for the outdated operating system. A bit of poking around, he found the password file.

The password file was not even encrypted. He downloaded it and sent it on to the radio service, packed up and crawled back to the HR office. Scanning around, a motion sensor was on the wall covering the room.

“Radio service radio check, hardware check.”

“Go ahead. You are on Vee-Oh-Eye-Pee with an IP address.”

“Sending you images. Do you have this under control?”

“Radio check. Copy sensor, it routes through to dispatch. Outer Limits. You are clear.”

It was the most talkative that radio service had been in a long time. Radio Service often said he hated the sound of his own voice, proving it often being terse over the open air, but this was downright talkative for the remote operator.

He would have to tell Radio Service that he nearly talked Radio Check’s ear off in these few seconds.

 

Shock and Awe Chapter 7. FSCK

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(Note: FSCK= File System ChecK)

Chapter 7. FSCK

He crawled through the large-diameter air shaft to find the data center, the mainframe computer needed tons of chilled air, ventilation for such a system was large and fed the massive amount of air into the heat-producing rows of circuits and drives to the isolated room.

It was easier to find in real-life than on the blueprints.

Turning his back to the blinking light that indicated the vent for dispatch, Radio Check nodded at the position of the computer center. The information tech department chose to place the data and internet nerve center directly across from the demands of its internet access, the computer-aided dispatch and radio systems. Residing behind two-sets of locked doors,  blueprints failed to show the contents of the room.

Using the small fiber-optic camera, he could only see a series of rate of rise heat detectors, two smoke detectors but no video camera. Nodding, he backed the fiber-optic cable out, placing a yellow flashing light on the inside of the air-return chamber. Unseen from the outside, they served only show the correct vent for him.

Pushing on the spring-loaded vent cover, it swung down and stopped on friction-braked hinges without a noise. Carefully, he positioned the big musket across the hole and pulled a hook from the winch disguised as a cap made from a furry animal and hooked it to the trigger-guard of the firearm.

He double checked the tablet computer he pulled from in his pocket and checked the universal USB-cable adapter. He lowered himself with his foot in the cap to control his descent to the floor, and looked around before flipping his leather mask up for better vision and, as observed by the little flex-camera he used, no video cameras were in the small room.

With a skilled eye, he followed a cable that fed from the ceiling to the back of a cabinet where he pressed an old style, round RCA adapter into a port in the back of the console and pressed a button on his headset, he smiled at the sound of a radio working perfectly.

“Radio service, radio check.”

“Five by five, outer limits.”

This tickled his sense of humor, ”Outer Limits” referred to an old tv show that started with a famous line to those who were fans.

“We are controlling transmission.”

The smiling fan of Outer Limits knelt down and plugged in his small data cable to a USB port on the tablet and the opposite end into the console. After a moment an icon turned green in the upper right corner of his display and indicated that he had gained access to a low-level, unprotected file and with a single command “FSCK” caused a reboot of the core system.

Thirty seconds later, the system reboot was complete, with him in control. Using VOIP he connected to another computer that was now logged into a wi-fi signal identified as “Sheriff Backbone WIFI”. The tablet spoofed the MAC address of a local squad car that the team sniffed out when it drove by a city park one evening on mundane duties.

“Voice check main core.”

“Copy five by five. Outer limits. We are in control of your set.”

“Dispatch please.”

“Engaged, system logs will self-destruct in five-minutes.” The clipped, professional voice answered. “All conversation now will be over intranet in-house. We have control of all video and radio transmission. Radio Check, you are the invisible man.”

Radio Check unplugged from the mainframe, he calmly walked over to the door and slowly opened it, blocking the lock with a UPC bar code from a box of Cap’n Crunch cereal purchased at a mom and pop shop that never installed video cameras, with cash, the year before. Then with care, he looked out.

Doors were open and the sounds were of emergency traffic. They were all focused on the barricaded person in the main floor men’s room.

Excellent.

Shock and Awe Chapter 5. Devil’s Descent

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Chapter 5. Devil’s Descent

Attaching his cap to an anchor— in this case the double-barreled flintlock laid across the vent— with the titanium hook hidden in the lining, Radio Check used cap as a foothold and lowered himself down on a thin cable and pressed the call button for the elevator.

Looking along the hallway while the built-in winch lifted him back up to the duct above the ceiling, he noted there was an air return vent about ten-paces back.

He smiled with humor this time. An air return might connect to the elevator shaft, this was a good development.

Elevator dinged and the doors opened to an empty lift. He positioned himself when he heard another boom echo down the air-vents. The concussion felt different, the shockwave he knew came from a police issue flash bang. They had tossed one of their grenades into the men’s toilet. They were close to finding they were breaching an empty room.

Odd.

He had not heard his stinger grenades go off. The police would evacuate then and stay clear the room after that event, until the swat swept the room for more booby-traps.

If they so much as nudged the chair that the stinger was hidden under with the little concealed ramp. It would fall and roll it into the middle of the room where it would burst with a thousand little low density polymer balls. Built like a super-powered airsoft toy weapon, this would hurt —  a lot — but it would not kill.

Lowering his backpack to the floor with the cord, Radio Check dropped down with the rifle in his hand. He never took his eyes off the doors at the end of the hallway when he picked up the backpack, stepped into the lift and pressed the “B-2” button.  He did not wait for the door to close on the elevator before he opened the service hatch in the ceiling with the barrel of his rifle and climbed up, using a parachute cord to pull his equipment up on top of the elevator car.

The elevator stopped as commanded at the second basement level where the dispatch center was. The temperature was much cooler on this level, the conditioned air directed into the data center by the ducts kept the computer room from overheating. He found the exhaust vent that opened to the elevator shaft easily, unclipped the spring-loaded catches on each corner and the vent that serviced the entire floor was open. Easily large enough to let him sit upright with his tools.

Service inspection panels every ten meters were large enough for a man to step through and he opened the first one and stepped out on the catwalk that ran between fresh air and the air return duct. Opening the fresh air access panel to the plenum inside, he pulled a folded object out of his backpack, peeled off a plastic outer layer and pressed the sticky side to the wall of the filtered, cool air stream and replaced the hatch. Stepping into the return-air duct, he closed the service hatch. And crawled along the large metal tube, looking into offices, now empty except for dispatch. Computer screens obstructed views like an electronic forest with people standing or sitting at consoles that raised or adjusted to their preference of sitting or standing.

CAD systems tracked patrol cars all around the city, including the Sheriff’s units. Combined command and control let him see every unit. Looking at the legends of colors, blue, green, yellow and red told him where each patrol car, swat vehicle, command vehicle and administrator was.

They were on their way to one spot.

A rumble echoed through the system made him smile, a sound he knew well.

The stinger grenades had gone off.

Placing a magnet-backed blinking green led on the inside of the plenum, he now had a marker on for dispatch, no need to look for it again.

Radio Check smiled, the operation was successful to this point as he accomplished the difficult part in misdirection. The officers attacking an empty room, now two floors above were intelligent and skilled. But only able to react to the information that Radio Check left for them.

He felt sorry for the honest cops involved with doing their jobs.

It was just the mission. 

Shock and Awe Chapter 3. Office Affair

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Chapter 3. Office Affair

The hinges on vent made a soft squeak when he pushed up into the old style HVAC duct, never engineered for constant air flow which worked in his favor allowing his equipment to fit, even the big flintlock. He climbed up and crawled through the space where there were no locks or doors towards the back of the building without the worry of being challenged. This allowed him to crawl to his first goal ahead of schedule.

Counting to the tenth vent, he quietly opened it.

No one was in the office, everyone was in the waiting room looking for him. With a smile, he dropped down into the watch commander’s office and sat in front of the computer, he plugged in a USB memory stick in the computer open port, then stretched outUSB data cord to his tablet computer and overrode the fragile operating system written by a small team in Washington State.

In thirty seconds his clock ran out, and he knew it was time to depart when the first of the impacts of the breaching ram hit the men’s room door and echoed down the air conditioning vents.

His lips tightened into a humorless smile. The police only had to get it open just enough for the trip-wire flash-bang grenade to pull loose and roll into the foyer where the entry team gathered. Two more grenades would go off. One more flash-bang and a stinger grenade, it would be an exciting evening for the local law enforcement of Croix Bay.

Back up he climbed. The furry hat with its little winch hidden inside did its job well as it assisted him to climb back up into the plenum chamber of the A/C system of the main floor of the police department.

A series of booms echoed along the airshaft, the police had succeeded in forcing the armored door of the men’s room, designed to act as a panic room, with their battering ram. They had a shock when the booby-trapped door rolled out a multi-bang stun grenade. He tucked an earplug in his opposite ear to protect on the next series of bangs that he knew were coming and continued to crawl along the tube that was not listed. It ran along the path of the smaller plenum chamber that was in the blueprints. This was good fortune, but worried him, if there were no records of engineered air treatment systems, he could be compromised and need to change the plan.

Turning the corner, he peeked down a vent, hanging half down the hole and saw that he was right in front of the elevator, behind a camera that looked down the hallway in the opposite direction, just as shown in the plans.

Excellent.

 

Smart Bomb Chapter 18. Rummage Sale

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Chapter 18. Rummage Sale

Alvin, Walter and Steve stopped in Chattanooga, at a cafe on the river front. Steve sat on the sidewalk and watched the evening traffic.

“JustWolf, do people walk along streets like this often? This is still winter, but the temperature is mild.” Steve asked. “The street has more women wearing revealing clothes, do they not worry about police enforcing modesty?”

“No.” Walter gave a big sigh. “Steve, call me Walter, no Wolf, no JustWolf, nothing like that. Just Walter.”

“Just Walter,” Steve repeated. “Got it.”

“Thank you.” Walter said.

Alvin laughed.

“What’s so funny.” Walter asked Alvin.

“Nothing, not one thing.” He answered trying to drown the laugh in a swallow of beer.

The afternoon, in Alvin’s opinion was a promise of laughter and fun.

They told Steve of how young and old people relate (Usually with conflict). How the different religions, got along when he asked about a synagogue and two churches existed in a short walk from each other.

The android learned quickly, showing understanding and actually smiled.

The trio climbed in to the well-hacked private car to bypass normal controls, drove down the road, hitting all the lights green with winks and knowing smiles while they drove through the famous city unfettered by traffic controls.

The two men and the artificial life form that they helped free from the future, rode in silence for some time.

Walter would later say he could almost hear Steve’s optical sensors hum as he took in all that they were passing.

“We have about an hours drive into DC from here, if the traffic is kind to us.” Alvin announced. His voice booming in the silence of the car. They had all been riding with the radio off, in their own thoughts.

Walter was on his hand-held computer, Steve watched everything.

In Alvin’s head, they were performing a service for the body next to him.

“I have logged into the system and surveyed the traffic conditions, there is a slowdown ahead in about fifty-miles.”

“You know, it is good to have an early warning system riding with us.” Alvin chuckled.

“How did you log in?” Wayne asked. “There is no signal here.”

“Worldnet has receivers everywhere. No wifi, it is easy to log in on the terahertz system.”

“Well, if I had it in my system.”

“JustWalter, if you use…”

“NO! Just Walter.” The round face of the man in the back-seat flushed red. “Forget it, never mind. Continue, please.”

The android nodded, following the rules that the human set forth on what he wanted people to call him, continued the conversation.

“If you go to settings, on that, access the bluetooth and set it there, for upper channel, then select Z-R and you will get a screen.”

“Got it.”

“Now, please, let me enter the code, it will be more efficient than if I tell you.” Steve took the palmtop and tapped in a code, twice. “I have given you the text file of the code.”

“Walter,” Alvin called back. “You got out-hacked.”

“I had an advantage.” Steve interjected. “I accessed the WorldNet on how to disable the Federal Communication Commission’s software restriction on frequency use. I changed the mac address as well. As far as the WorldNet thinks, your digital hand-held is the police car computer we passed going the other way two-minutes ago.”

Walter laughed.

“You spoofed my mac address to a POLICE car?”

“Yes.” Steve looked innocent.

“You, sir, are learning!” Walter laughed again. “Now if you can only say my name correctly.”

“Just Walter.”

“Careful how you answer that.” Alvin laughed as he drove.

“It’s all good, he has taught to accept it.” Walter laughed.

The hours passed quickly as they talked among each other, Steve calling the big man in the back seat “JustWalter” every so often.

Alvin would look in the mirror and, although Walter said it didn’t bother him, Walter’s face flushed a little, obviously struggling with the urge to yell at Steve again.

“Steve, how does it feel without a bomb in your chest?” Alvin asked absent-mindedly.

The core processors chose an emotional response, in the subroutines that worked with the question.

In the heart of an artificial life, the flow of life brought to him a smile.

Steve the android smiled.

“I feel good.”

Looking at him from the back seat, Walter nodded.

“I think he really does!” Walter observed. “He feels emotions.”

“Yes, I do.” Steve nodded. “My experiences are beginning to give me emotions to feel.”

“That’s incredible. Does the guy that built you know you would learn emotions?”

“No, no one does. Until now.”

“Does that mean the little car that Alvin has also feels emotion?”

“Yes. It is a miserable and lonely car that thinks it is about to have its brain removed.” Steve commented. “It is looking at the equivalent of being killed.”

“Ah, no, I am not going to do that, we are going to strip off the bodywork that someone slapped on and go from there.”

“This is a good thing.” Steve judged. “You will find that things will improve, and you can repair the seats. I believe it will instruct you on precise ways to do it.”

“Dudes, I gotta take a leak, Alvin, pull off on the next exit. There is a fast food joint there, I’ll use their bathroom.” Walter shifted in the back seat. “And get a bite to eat.”

“Copy that.” Alvin answered.

“JustWalter, did you not relieve yourself before we left?” Steve asked.

“I did, but I also drank a large soda in the meantime.” He held up an empty cup.

“The normal male bladder holds three-hundred to four-hundred milliliters of fluid.” Steve commented. “You drank nearly a liter.”

“In American?” Walter asked.

“A bladder holds ten to fourteen ounces. You drank much more than that.” Steve converted the terms quickly. “On that note, that is a great deal of processed chemicals. You are increasing your chances of malignant genetic permutations leading to a chronic and terminal condition.”

“What?”

“He said you are at risk for cancer with all the crap they put in sodas.” Alvin answered the confusion. “I’m catching on to his way of talking. Steve, for an android you mumble a lot.”

“Yeah, yeah, we all gotta die sometime.”

Walter got out at the fast food restaurant and went inside.

Steve sat in the car and looked out towards a church with a full parking lot of personal possessions. Few cars were in the parking stalls and it struck Steve as odd.

“Alvin, what is that activity?” Steve pointed.

“Looks like a rummage sale.”

“Explain?”

“A church takes donations of clothing and such and in turn sell them or donate them to the needy, and use the money for various things from charity to repairs and such. It also benefits the community where people can buy items that are inexpensive.” Alvin explained.

“I wish to go there. I need clothing to travel around this country.”

“Okay, they take only cash.” Alvin advised.

“Accessing WorldNet. Okay, a money portal is inside, I will go inside and get some.” Steve said as he got out.

A few minutes later, Steve returned with Walter who carried another large soda, and food for everyone.

“I don’t see how you eat organic food and your system uses electrons.” Alvin asked Steve when they got out and the android was chewing on a sandwich.

“The fusion converter is a  modified “Fusion-art” patented home power unit appliance, built to use table scraps and even elements, and convert it to plasma and use it for energy.” Steve explained. “My builder felt it as a twist of irony that American products blow up America.”

“I wonder where the Bot Ladies are now?” Walter wondered out loud.

“We will find out soon enough.” Alvin answered. “When that warhead goes off in that area, that will make headlines.”

“This looks appealing.” Steve held up some too-small clothes.

“You have child’s clothes there.” Walter pointed out.

“Yes.” Steve agreed. “I will make use of them.”

Alvin and Walter looked at each other.

“Shape shifter.” Alvin mouthed.

Walter nodded. When the android left them, they would never know what he looked like. The clothes he picked out spanned sizes and genders.

The android was going to explore all the world without being noticed.

After Steve paid cash and carried the clothes back to the car, he directed them to a brushy area near a park. Taking some too-small clothes, he walked away from the car and emerged as a dark-haired boy with brown eyes and the hint of a mustache and fine-white whiskers on his chin.

“I am still Steve, you are my Uncle Alvin and JustWalter you are my older brother.”

“When are you leaving us?” Walter asked.

“As soon as my mission is finished. It will be painful, the subroutine needs to cycle to the end and it will send a voltage to the terminator, that will cause a feedback and everything will reboot. But when it does, there will be no requirement for travel. I will be fully free.”

The men nodded and Steve sat in back at his insistence. All kids seem to ride in back, Steve noted.

“I think I will go to New York City after the reboot.” Steve said.

After a moment he added.

“Yes, I think this is the beginning of a long trip.”

Smart Bomb Chapter 15. A Bum, A Bomb and A Belle

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Chapter 15. A Bum, a Bomb and a Belle

He told people to call him “Lone Wolf”, but the nature of the man was akin to more of a walking marshmallow than a predator.

Anti-government, a conspiracy theorist, still holding out that JFK was, in fact, still alive, in reality kidnapped by a nebulous group, possibly aliens, and the person in the limousine was in fact, not a person but a very advanced animatronics mannequin.

To this point he had little evidence other than opinions.

Walter “Lone Wolf” Whitbred, chewed on another handful of almonds.

“So.” Another handful of nuts. “You are telling me this guy says he is an android and you believe him with no evidence?”

Alvin looked quizzically at the leader of the small group of conspiracy theorists.

“You accept that the President meets regularly with aliens, but you have doubts this man here is an android?” Alvin shook his head.

Walter looked at Stephen for a long moment.

“Convince me.”

Alvin looked at Steve and shrugged.

“Show him like you showed me.”

The change was abrupt, the dark hair coloring to black as he became a short, broad Asian woman, then a tall, blue-eyed and red-headed fugitive from some Norse legend.

Walter uttered profanity at each change when Steve went through a pantheon of shapes, changing from male to female, covering the gamut of every shade of human in the database in a few minutes.

Sitting down and spoke gently.

“I need to recharge, that takes a lot of energy.”

Walter shook his head.

“Dude do you know how much someone would pay for that? Can you record anything you see?”

“Everything.” Steve responded. “Anything I see. I am able to see from one-hundred micrometers to one-hundred nanometers, so I see a lot.”

“Nanometer range? You can see in UV!”

“Yes.” Steve did not understand why Alvin laughed.

“Walter, you are being Admiral Obvious now.” Alvin chuckled. “Now, this is a problem we need to take care of.

Alvin explained the recent history of discoveries, Steve the Android filling in gaps while Walter paced around holding his head as if it were all too much to take in.

“My head hurts.” Walter moaned. “Everything I have ever worried about, killer robots, smart cars that serve the government to spy on us.”

“Sleeper does not serve the government.”

“Sleeper? SLEEPER!?” Walter gaped. “You NAMED it?”

“It was named by other cars.”

“Other!?” Walter sat down. “Oh… shit.”

“Have I said something wrong?” Steve asked Alvin.

“No,” Alvin chuckled. “You showed someone with an edge of paranoia that he was not as paranoid as anyone ever called him.”

“Do you know what this means? The government has spied on us for, Oh my god, I don’t know how long! How old is that car you bought? Is it new?” Walter began to tap on the keys. A metal frame around the room began to rattle down, a copper mesh covered ever inch of the mobile wall, except for the door solid steel door they entered, a copper framed screen door he built into the cage.

“A Faraday cage, no signals in, no signals out. How does that make you feel Tin Man?” Walter addressed Steve the android. “A little woozy? Like you lost signal? Can’t have your human driver pushing buttons to tell you what to do?”

“I feel no change, am I supposed to? No human drives, me, I am autonomous. I have one program, to reach the James Madison power generation unit near the Capital.” Steve looked quizzically at Walter.

“The closest power facility in Washington is underneath the White House and it’s power cell driven, alien tech and gives free power from the earth’s magnetic fields.” Walter walked around and pointed at maps on the wall with push-pins and strings. A technological counterpoint to the displays and computers that littered the inside of the abandoned building.

“The government has had the tech to give us all free power for dozens of years.” Turning to Alvin. “How old is your car? A dozen? That’s how long the government has had the power generation perfected.”

“No, it is older than that.” Steve said.

“It’s pre-war tech.” Alvin added.

“What war?” Walter stopped in mid-rant.

“Last century, west coast?” Alvin slowly spoke the words to maximize the impact.

“Ho..Ly.. Shhhh… “ Walter paused. “Bull! No, they have not had the tech that long.”

“This car, built by the Terran Green Machine corporation, by components designed and built by a small sub-contractor company, NeverFail.” Steve informed both men.

“How do you know this?” Walter eyed the android suspiciously.

“Sleeper told me.”

“Sleeper?” Walter stroked his chin.

“The car, Walter.” Alvin said.

“I told you not to call me that! Lone Wolf or just Wolf.” Walter said.

“The car uses a Z-bus system.” Steve the Android told Walter. “It was extremely advanced systems then, it is comparable to what I use now, a balanced ternary operating hardware system. The car is more massive than mine and draws about three times the power. There are signs of corrosion and failed circuits.”

“Failed?” Alvin asked.

“Yes, the circuits failed recently, the power was off at the time and the reason is not recorded.”

“Um… That might be my doing.” Alvin admitted. “I pulled some plugs, broke a few wires.”

“That would explain the corrupted files in the memory, the wires will need repair or replacement.” Steve turned to Walter and following his desired name. “Me Lone Wolf, we need your best minds in the group to build a flesh covered robot for one mission.”

“No, not Me Lone Wolf.” Walter blustered. “You make me sound like an Asian Lupus, call me just Wolf, Okay?”

“Okay, call you Just Wolf.” The android nodded. “I will store that in permanent memory.”

“Right.” Walter nodded. “Now, how do we build a robot to do what you do? We can build one, but they all are obviously what they are. Most use treads and never use transporters.”

“We can just build a singular program. Not many countries scan people for this kind of explosive.” Alvin said.

“Now what about this bomb you are telling me about?” Walter asked.

“Steve?” Alvin looked at the android.

“The warhead is one point one milligrams of antimatter by weight.” Steve looked into Just Wolf without blinking. “This has a nominal yield of eight-thousand six hundred pounds of TNT as America measures it.”

“Jeezzzuz.” Walter mumbled. “And it is where?”

“Just behind and above my xyphoid process. Near where a heart would be. Should the local police shoot, they shoot center mass of a torso and it the creator considered a high chance level of hitting the container and causing an explosion. The creator estimated the total devastation range at four-hundred meter radius.”

“That’s over twelve-hundred feet! In one direction.” Alvin gasped. ”You didn’t tell me that at my warehouse.”

“You didn’t ask.” Steve said innocently.

“Okay, okay. So how do we get this…” Walter stopped. “How do we get this bomb out of you without blowing ourselves up?”

“It is self-powered for a short time, it can last three days without external power safely. It also has a permanent magnet core as a backup, but it is temperature and shock sensitive.”

“How sensitive?” Alvin asked.

“Dead circuits? Without power, an impact on a solid surface at greater than ten feet per second would suffice.”

“How do you get that kind of energy?” Walter asked.

“A drop from one meter.” Steve answered.

“In American?”

“A drop from your card table over there.” Steve pointed where a half-eaten pizza sat.

“Jeeezzzuss.” Alvin whispered. “My mom got mad once when I dropped a glass of milk off the table, this is a little worse.”

“Alvin, just shut it.” Walter shook his head. “I need to smoke some weed.”

“You don’t smoke weed.” Alvin said.

“I’m going to start.” Walter shook his head. “So what kind of android or robot are we going to build, where are we going to send it.”

Steve looked at the two humans.

“My point of origin, make it appear female. I will give the basic program.” Steve instructed.

“Okay, a pretty girl?”

“Indeed.” Steve’s eyes blinked twice. “I have the trigger and we can grow the flesh to cover her well enough to pass inspection.”

“Okay, I have Opticon coming, Thor and his girlfriend the Lady Sif, Burning Chip, and Running Man are all on their way.” The conspiracy fanatic said. “The Belle of the Bomb will make her way back to your home from here.”

The Tuesday Code Chapter 1. Tuesday Code.

Standard

Chapter 1. The Tuesday Code

Doctor Abhubu drank the coffee from his cup, a concession to the western style, he necessarily brewed it with a paper filter with a splash of almond-milk.

The screen that illuminated his features, boron nanotube, capable of using photon packets instead of electrons for operations. The new circuitry would build a new system orders of magnitude more powerful than the current supercomputers in the world — and it would fit inside a desk, much like the one he was sitting at.

Beowulf Operational Berth, lovingly called ‟Bob” by Yng Gibson Pak, the engineer and designer of the system. Running Linux-based system on laptops computers stripped of their power using and heat-producing screens, the system scaled its power consumption as the need arose.

Only one laptop needed? The operating system allowed for that and shut the other sections down, using only a few dozen watts of power.

Alternately, a required increase in power would also increase the energy consumption. Bob could consume hundreds of kilowatts. Doctor Abhubu used his own scant funds in his effort, but proud that Gibson was able to construct this computer system for less money than it cost for a large laptop.

Out of scraps, Gibson had built a teraflop system that fit comfortably in the budget that the Doctor had set. With the added advantage and control, the power could be dialed back and the system could, in fact of use, be all but shut down, saving power, only using one node of the cluster for operations.

Late into the afternoon, the head of the robotics company with his employee and friend as the total of his staff.

As a result, they wore many hats, including janitorial service, food preparation and cleanup and coffee supplies.

Especially coffee! The biggest crime in the company was Ahmad not having a cup of coffee in his hand.

This entertained Gibson a great deal, who’s favorite drink was a green tea.

Among the different chores, Gibson got a note from the Doctor to program an algorithm for a learning, writing in a line of code that altered the fuzzy-logic program that Ahmad used while he programmed a personal electronic butler— which Ahmad called ‟Pebbles”.

The designs went hand in hand, they designed boron nanotubes in place of carbon nanotube technology with the projected superconducting material at room temperature.

Weeks dragged into months, living on Chinese noodles and expired foods from a store that sold such items after their “Sell by” date at a steep discount.

The Doctor felt the weight of abject failure, he had mortgaged his house, along with the money that Gibson had brought in with selling his own car and living in the flat behind the office.

The office, a joke that made Ahmad laugh darkly to himself as he looked around. It was a hole in the wall that was once a sandwich store that failed.

Late Tuesday afternoon had come up on them like a tsunami, unstoppable and unwanted.

‟Gibs, input my design code for the hardware and use the last iteration of software into the compiler with a ten-thousand random code modification and testing? I need to go and call my wife to tell her we will come home early tonight.” Ahmad took a deep breath. He was gambling on a software program to help. The random generator produced unworkable code ninety-percent of the time.

But that last ten-percent?

They had moved robotic programming ahead by ten-fold.

The same designs had exceeded Moore’s Law in hardware. The software designed by the supercomputer was designing hardware that would accelerate again the designs.

This! This is what the company the good Doctor wanted. But no one believed him when he tried to bring forth the contracts.

He was nearly ready to give up, the year before the company’s income, the total that Cheerio Robotics, Inc brought in was not quite half of what they needed to break even.

They would have to close doors in three more months if they did not get a contract to license or sell robot control systems, his wife informed him.

And if they did close, they had no recourse, no reserve, nothing left and would lose the house and declare bankruptcy.

Gibson walked out of the computer room after a few minutes. The Doctor had been lost in thought, staring at the setting sun of the early autumn, daylight standard time had passed a week before, the walk home would be in the dark, alone with his thoughts, again.

He no longer drove his ten-year-old Toyota, its cost was too high.

‟Good night, Gibs. I have a few things to think about.”

‟Ahmad, please, can I give you a ride home?”

‟No, thank you. I need to think. We have a winning design, but no one wants it. Unless it can walk up and down stairs, or serve a drink at a snail’s pace, no one wants to talk.”

‟Good night worry-wart, see you in the morning.”

The Doctor nodded and walked out.

‟Don’t forget to lock up the store.”

‟No worries. It’s my home and all.” Gibs winked. ‟The computer will be done in an hour or so, then shut down.”

‟Good. Can you estimate the power used for tonight?” Ahmad asked. 

‟Well, for an hour, I don’t see that being much over fifty-dollars at the worst. We won’t be taxing the system very much.”

Gibson was wrong to the extreme.

In the computer room, where Gibs had sat, one node, then three, then nine of the super-cluster’s nodes woke up and booted into full power mode.

Yng Gibson Pak’s design, never fully tested due to budget restraints, worked perfectly.

In the moments while Gibs locked doors, he never looked again at the read out, he turned power off from the screen to save money, not knowing that the petaflop-capable machine had exceeded the rated speed easily.

Gib’s errored in seeking a random change in code and testing for operation. Not ten-thousand compile and testing cycles, a minor typo and the instruction code called for Ten-BILLION cycles.

Ninety-eight percent of the codes processed with changes by the random generator, failed during processing to a workable code— failing the compile process.

This left two-hundred million cycles of a workable program that ran from start to finish.

One in one-hundred thousand of the remaining code returned with an alert flag for the Doctor to check.

All through the night, Bob the Beowulf worked at peak capacity, developing and refining through the test phase, code that the human requested by accident.

Finding one series of commands, now called ‟Recommended Code Review” and saved for review by the humans.

When morning came, the humans would be shocked how warm it was in the office.

Every one of B.O.B.’s nodes worked at full power, all night, and produced a code and hardware combination that would change the world.

What the two businessmen would call the “Tuesday Code” became legend.

Cellular Justice Chapter 2. Office of the Vice-Chief

Standard

Chapter 2. Office of the Vice-Chief

‟Robert, have a seat. There is a serious problem for you to come to my office unannounced.”

Janis Pillsbury Vice-Chief of the police department was always pleased with Robert’s company. He had a knack to make people feel smarter with his way of teaching and leadership.

When they met in college, she was a member for the Olympic swim-team twenty years earlier. It had frustrated her when she got bumped from the team because of a shoulder injury earned while arm-wrestling the future doctor at a bar during finals week.

Robert sat in the leather-cushioned chair in front of her and put files on her desk.

‟These are files on two-dozen separate events in the last six weeks. Some are gang affiliate, some are not. There is no connection other than apparent death caused by an explosive device.” Robert looked grim. ‟The pattern suggests that there is a theft ring going on, but we are finding material that we cannot explain, explosive residue that we have not seen before. Blast damage that seems limited to one person, except in three cases of multiple victims, the explosions seem focused on individuals we suspect were involved with a crime, solely on the tattoos and history of the known victims.”

‟Hm. A theft ring being purged?”

‟I don’t know, data supports a street battle, except for the lack of drive-by shootings. There are explosives being used, so a case could be made for domestic terrorism other than it’s not involving the normal targets. The victims in this case have known histories of felonies, in large part. A few unknown subjects, but with tattoos that suggests affiliations.”

‟Have you a hypothesis on these events? What is the explosive used?”

‟That is the biggest issue. We cannot identify the explosives used. We have some nitrogen based, certainly, but there are other traces we cannot account for.” Robert flipped through a file and handed it to her. ‟This shows an optically clear glass that is slightly porous on a microscopic scale, we did a mass-spec on it and something on the sample detonated while being prepared.”

‟WHAT? Did’t you check for an explosive residue?”

‟We did. Standard procedure and none of our equipment detected any oxidizer or explosives. No hydrocarbons of any concern, there was a light oil, but it checked out as a light silicone oil. Not explosive. However we did find copper and silver acetelydes in minute trace amounts.”

‟A contact explosive.”

‟Well, shock and temperature sensitive, but the odd part about what we found is in the traces that were not consumed, they had insulating jackets of ethylene.”

‟Like wires?”

‟Not… Not like we would think of them, silver acetelyde is so shock sensitive that it has no serious use. Copper, is less sensitive but a hell of a detonator. The question we do not have an answer for is what was it detonating? We have a high-nitrated carbon plastic which is not an explosive in its own right, but I believe it’s a kicker, whatever the primary warhead is, the case shapes and boosts the force of the explosion.”

‟Okay, what do we know past that.”

‟This much. These are specific in the way they explode as evidenced by the destruction of body tissues. You could be standing next to the person when it detonates, you would be uninjured and the victim is beyond help of even the most advanced trauma surgical team.” Robert took a deep breath. ‟The bombs are personal and specific.”

‟Someone is targeting the victims.”

‟Yes, specific victims. It is not a suicide bomb that goes for mass killing.”

‟What about these two reports that have multiple victims.”

‟Each victim had a device in their possession. The glass windows in the room broke, but not blown out. My team has surveyed the glass to try to determine if the windows were previously cracked or if the blast did it. In any case, it was a hundred percent kill only within the confines of the room. Trace evidence is outside of our databases.”

‟What about the traces you just said with the copper and silver?”

‟Not enough to inflict the injuries we are seeing. But there is a delivery system that we are not finding, it is possible that the case that the explosive is consumed in the explosion by design.”

‟As in,  where did I hear this before, a paper-cased bomb?”

‟Close, that’s in a novel and a movie. But that is where that exists only.”

‟Oh.”

‟This is different, there is trace, we are not recognizing it yet.”

‟Well, get on it. Do you have any more information?”

‟No. But the pattern is this: Young, generally male with known felony and misdemeanor convictions, high incidence of drugs in their systems. High mortality rate, one-hundred percent, no fires, collateral damage or bystanders injured.”

‟Who is doing this?” Janis looked carefully at the files, one at a time.”I see no connections.”

‟Other than being killed in explosions that would be no louder than a car backfire, no connections between events we can find. We have no one to put a finger on, other than to say person or persons. We just don’t know where the evidence points.” Robert said evenly. ‟Yet.”

‟Okay, Robert, I will take this to the Chief and we will brief department heads. You get top priority on any information coming in on our task forces on organized crime will have a meeting. How is this afternoon look for you?”

‟I will clear my schedule. Janis, to be clear, I want to say this clearly. You have vigilantes out there and they are trying to put you out of business.”

‟We have hunters, eh?”

‟More like poachers.”

Robert stood up and smiled in a grim way that Janis knew that he was unhappy with the ambiguous evidence. Watching the door close behind him as she held the files in her hand, the word echoed in her mind.

‟Poachers.”

Arrows of Time: Short story rewrite.

Standard

Section 1. Rough Landing

The energy wave came out of deep space. At one time it was a gravity wave and it registered as such, except that it was beyond the ability for read-outs to display properly. Only using arcane exponent figures, it was not difficult to decide — after the curiosity factor spiraled into…

Screams…

“Shields!” Captain Soofy yelled before the wave hit. “Shields!”

But the shields, strong as they were, were woefully inadequate for the gathered energy being pushed in front of the wave. Warning alarms blared.

“Hold on to something, this is going to hurt!”

Impact!

Then pain, darkness and silence.

His Royal Highness, Prince Bren U’Maile of the Pirate Confederation could hear nothing. He was numb in his face, but pain crept in, waking him from a dream.

An alarm klaxon blared…

Prince Bren hurt in his shoulders as when his bigger cousins had tried to pull out his arms when he was very young.

Bren opened his eyes, a sticky goo covered his right eye and he touched his face.

Blood. He was injured.

No. It was Nician’s blood, his best friend and cousin, they had struck heads and Nician’s nose was broken, bleeding like a hose.

Captain Soofy had grabbed Bren and was holding on to him as they tumbled, Nician Soofy was badly hurt but was hanging on to Bren U’Maille with an inhuman grip powered by his surge of survival instinct.

They tumbled across the ceiling of the bridge towards the nose of the warship.

Bren could see Nician’s lips move but he could not hear any sound in his numbed brain, the sound slowly began to register.

“…spin! We need to get control!” Nician was shouting. “Bren! We are in an inverted flat spin!”

A flat spin, in space it was a minor inconvenience while they would gain control.

This could not be that easy. Struggling to waken from his concussion, Bren could see the horizon of the planet they were near was spinning in and out of view— they falling into the planet’s gravity well.

“Flat spin! Bren, wake up! I cannot hold you!” Nician yelled. “Bren!”

“I’m awake. I have a rail, get to the helm!” Bren said. “Computer. Emergency stabilize.”

Silence.

“Computer systems are down.” The bloodied navigation officer Lt. Yoa said. A member of the elite Pirate Raider force, she rarely raised her voice. Some said to get her to smile was an accomplishment. To get her to panic was impossible.

“We have lost power to critical systems!” She was yelling now, and not because it was loud in the bridge.

“Need to get to a hardline.” Nician said. “Independant power.”

Prince Bren began to climb up the floor. The flat, inverted spin of the big ship made floors into walls. The crazed world, altered by centripetal forces made the climb a challenge.

Klaxons shut down suddenly and the silence was deafening. If the crew was not struggling for footholds on floor and ceiling, all would be quiet and calm.

Profanities and grunts as the command and navigation crews struggled to get into position. The helm officer dangled from his seat restraints limply. No one could tell if he was unconscious or dead.

While he climbed up, Captain Soofy grunted and pulled on the Prince as they leapfrogged along the vertical floor-come-wall.

“It’s only about six-tenths gravity, we are lucky it’s not more.” Bren said.

“Yup. But the rotation rate is increasing. We are going to fly apart if we don’t stop her from spinning.”

“Agreed..ugh! That’s my face.” Bren said as they used each other to climb on.

“Sorry. Next stop, helm.” The Captain said. “Looks like you will be up, I’ll crawl over to navigation.”

“Aye.”

The two cousins struggled with climbing over each other, Bren finally grunted over the edge of the navigation station.

“Ensign Wills! Wake up.” Prince Bren shouted and shook the helm officer. “He’s alive, but he has a nasty head injury.”

“Right. Let’s get him in a spot where he is safe.” The two men struggled with limp officer and finally got him wedged in place.

The prince tapped the communications button on the panel in front of him. Prince Bren bent over awkwardly with the increasing spin making the nose of the big ship “Down” from their position.

“Engineering! Flat spin, we are in an inverted flat spin. Helm is not responding.”

“Engineering here. Bridge apologies! All systems have rebooted, we have another two minutes to get the core computer online before we can reset anything from down here.”

“We are out of service for another two minutes? We will be in the stratosphere in thirty-seconds!”

“Bridge. You can reset systems locally there. Each system is independent. You have reset options on the command chair, helm and navigation.”

“Copy, what is the sequence?” Bren yelled. “We have to do it quick, we have increased our felt G’s to double normal gravity.”

“Afirmative bridge, we have it showing here. We are increasing felt gravity by zero-point-eight G’s per minute.”

“Yeah. I feel it, we are over two-point-zero now.”

“Sequence on reboot. Press the red button and hold for four-seconds all the buttons will illuminate then blue-blue-red, it will ask to confirm then green.”

“Engineering, this is Soofy, I have it up, I will code the reboot.”

“Acknowledged Captain.”

“Seriously? We don’t have that much time. Who the hell designed four-seconds?”

“Your dad.” Soofy answered with a flat tone.

“Oh great, I am going to have a talk with him if we survive.”

Tapping in the code into the illuminated console, lights came back on and gravity systems reset.

“Okay, gravity and inertial damper are online at zero-point-two gee-per-second.” Captain Soofy said.

“Excellent.” Bren said, as he  stood on the floor, then sat at the helm control and began to tap commands into the console. “Helm is responding, I am stopping the spin with reaction jets. We are still without power and are falling, but everyone will have command with their area’s.”

“Engineering to bridge.” The familiar voice of the Hawaiian chief engineer. “Whoever stopped the spin, good job! Our life just got easier down here.”

“We still need power, we’re inverted and falling into the planet still but at least we are not in a flat-spin. I am rolling into a conventional flying attitude and I’ll deploy landing gear.”

“Uh sir, with all due respect, but this ship is not really built for performance in an atmosphere.”

“Understood, but we taken a hell of a beating and if you cannot give me engines, we are not going to get to escape velocity and out into orbit.”

“Copy that, I cannot promise you engines in the next few minutes. We have all other systems coming online. Engines have been reset as well.”

“We are in control, just out of power. Why did all systems reboot?” Ensign Robert Wills asked as he got unsteadily to his feet.

“That gravity wave had a charge to it. The computer shut down to prevent damage.” Bren said. “I remember that from some plans of the designs that. We could have had a reactor overload.”

“Request permission to return to my post.” A bloodied Ensign Wills stood up.

“I stand relieved, but let us get you a replacement and you report to sick-bay as soon as possible. Dude, you were out like a light.” Prince Bren chuckled.

“Yes, sir.”

“Bridge to engineering,” Soofy called. ”We have attitude control but no directional navigation. We have stopped the spin, but we are going into the atmosphere. ETA on Engines?”

“Engineering to bridge. Cold restart procedures are in effect.”

“Okay, how long, chief?” The Captain asked.

“Five minutes, tops.”

Captain Soofy leaned over to the bleeding but recovering helm officer.

“How long do we have?”

“I figure three minutes.” Ensign Wills said. “Tops.”

“Chief, you gave a power ETA about two minutes longer than we have. Can we get partial power?”

“Nician, I just don’t have it.”

Prince Bren tapped on a calculator and nodded to himself.

“Nician, we can slow our fall with reactive thrusters at emergency override maximum.” Bren read his figures. 

“Bare enough power. I would be happier with a zero point 5 better thrust. But these units are not built for that.” The Captain was ahead of his cousin.

“Can they produce it? It is not like we have a lot of choices, they produce it, or near. Or… Or… we crater.” Bren was looking for a way to not sound hysterical. He stood there with his black ceramic armor on, looking heroic, but in his head, he was in a panic and ran in circles.

“They can produce it but for a short period, we would have to replace them.”

“We will need to replace them anyway with emergency override.”

“Aye, true enough. Okay, helm, I am giving you the override codes.”

“Override’s got a hell of a workout today.” The helm officer said without humor.

“Speed?” Bren asked.

“One-twenty meters per second and slowing.”

“Nician, safe landing speed?”

“Maximum of twelve meters per second, we are one order of magnitude over that.”

“Well, that is just about to ruin my whole day. Set the reactive thrusters and engage, keep them going until they burn out and we crash or land.” Bren said.

“Already below the triple digits in descent. Ninety meters-per-second.” The navigator said

“Captain? Time to impact?”

“Well, with the rate of deceleration it is not a straight…”

“Time to impact?” Bren interrupted.

“Three point five minutes.” Captain Soofy answered. “Subject to change.”

“Time to safe landing speed?”

“Three point two minutes.” The helm answered.

“Pfft, we are all over this.”

“Selected land looks like a shallow grade to a body of water three-thousand kilometers across, sensors show a high salinity and depth exceeding one-hundred meters near the shoreline.”

“An ocean.”

“Aye, sire.” Ensign Wills said. “We are in a trajectory to set down about one kilometer from the water, plus or minus six-hundred meters.”

“Why such a wide field?”

“Deceleration is not a constant.”

“Copy that.”

“Speed?”

“Fifty meters-second and decreasing.”

“Altitude?” Bren asked from his command chair.

“One-thousand meters and falling. Sir, the braking has dropped off.”

“Captain?”

“We have burned out ten-percent of our thrusters. The deceleration is not a constant.”

“Damn.” Bren was no longer smug in his assessment of being “All over this.” He was worried. “Can we compensate.”

“Negative, there is no more to give.” Soofy tapped on his command panel.

“Sirs, we have sensor data,” Orion said from the helm. “The ground we are approaching has a high water content. It’s a delta marsh.”

“Change vector, find some solid land.” The Captain ordered.

“Aye-aye.”

“Bren, divert power from life support to ship integrity field. Take all power you can find and brace up the ship for impact.” The Captain turned to the helm. “Eta to ground.”

“Twenty seconds.”

Pressing a button on his headset for ship-wide communication, it failed to connect to the central computer that was still down, causing Nician Soofy to cover his face with the palm of his hand while he growled, then the Captain jumped to his command seat and press the button on the speaker built into the command panel.

“All stations all stations, prepare for a hard landing, impact fifteen seconds.”

“Bren to engineering, ETA on power?”

“Longer than we have, Sire.” The chief engineer answered. “At least ninety seconds, I can get you power for hull and frame integrity. Diverting power now. I have increased power to dampers with what we have.”

“Impact five seconds.” Helm called.

“Anything you can get us, engineering.” The Captain interjected then asked. “Helm, speed?”

“Eighteen meters-per-second. Four seconds.”

“Bren, anything else you can do, burn them out.”

“This is going to be hard. All stations, all stations, brace for impact.” The Captain’s voice echoed into every corner of the Peacemaker.

“Two seconds!”

“One…”

The impact of the struggling ship overwhelmed the systems, in a tail-low approach, the right-rear landing gear touched first, sinking into the soft marsh of the delta, compressing the wet, springy soil underneath. The nose gear touched second on firmer soil. The roll of the ship, worsened with the rebound, throwing the right side of the ship high while the left of the ship sank into the soil.

The Peacemaker was rolling over with no life-support or artificial gravity. Screams of the unrestrained  echoed in the bridge as they tumbled around inside the ship.

The only ones wearing a seat belt of any sort was Captain Soofy, the Helm officer Yoa and Ensign Wills. Lieutenant. Sifa Yoa had already been injured once and was not taking another hit if she could help it.

Prince Bren not so restrained, thrown out of his seat, hit and tried to hold onto a strut, cursing the high quality of the ship’s finish, he had no corners to hang on and then thrown as the Peacemaker continued to roll. Thrown to his back and lights sparkled behind his eyes when he hit his head on a control panel that tore free and his consciousness faded.

Darkness came as the Peacemaker continued its roll, ending back on the landing gear with one last, violent, impact.

Blessed oblivion held the prince in the arms of darkness.

Nician was less fortunate, he stayed awake during the terror of the ground coming up and hitting the football-field long warship.

Thrusters were pushing two-hundred percent of maximum, Nician reduced thrust on the starboard thrusters to level the ship— but it was not enough.

The shock of the sight of his cousin and prince sailing across the bridge as they inverted during the roll. Bren hit and bounced off the ceiling with a yell and hit a panel as the big ship continued to turn over, the prince’s ceramic armor clattering has he tumbled around the ship.

The Peacemaker gave one slow-motion pause as they tilted three-quarters through a full rotation, Bren’s only purchase with his fingertips was not made to hold against any weight, broke loose and dropped Bren on the floor. A heavy section of the broken panel that landed on top of the prince with a sound of a loud thud under the sapphire-glass display.

For the longest second in his life, Nician hung at an awkward angle out of his command chair— this was worse than if they were at any of the ninety degrees, even upside down would have been…

“HOLD ON!” Orion shouted. “She’s not finished moving!”

Peacemaker gathered speed as it continued her roll, landing violently right side up.

Alarms blared as bodies struggled to stand. Displays flickered for a moment, listed damage to different systems and sensors, then went dark.

The alarms went silent the same time as all lights went out and once again, emergency lighting illuminated the interior of the warship with a ghostly light.

“Report.” Nician moaned, wrenching his back at the last impact.

“All systems are dead. Starting reboot sequence.”

“Thank you Lieutenant.”

Looking around, Bren lay ominously quiet under the heavy, detached display with a growing pool of blood leaking out from his head.

 Then he groaned out a profanity while Nician lifted the panel off his cousin. 

“Remind me to talk to dad about that time-delay.” Bren whispered. Profuse blood coming from his earlobe. 

“Bren, you have an injury.” His cousing pulled up a bandage from the first aid kit. 

“That reminds me, mag-boots on your bridge from now on. I’d rather be stuck than bounce around inside your ship.”

“You are so not hurt. Let’s get you to sick-bay to confirm that.”

Another alarm sounded. On the panel an engineering display came up, the reactor core illuminated in red with the words “Containment Breach.” flashing.

“Oh no. Not now, what else…” Bren said, while reading the words.

“Shut it.” Nician said. “You’ll jinx us.”

The alarm went quiet.

“Engineering to bridge. We have a proper shutdown. Disregard the alarm.”

“Bridge to engineering, you have some folks turning blue up here. We all stopped breathing for a minute.”

“Apologies, Captain. We have some cleanup to do and shutdown procedures to perform. Engineering out.”

“Sickbay for the injured.” Bren adjusted his own bandage.

“We need to inspect my ship for damage from that rollover.”

“The rest of us, too.” Bren nodded. “At least the ships back is not broken.”

“There’s a lot of other things that will keep us grounded. But yes. That is a positive note.”

“Well, let’s get her to rights and get our area surveyed. Whatever we hit that turned us over might also have other surprises.”

“First, you go to sickbay to check that head of yours.  You should’ve been wearing a helmet.”

“Now you turn nanny. Where were you a little while ago?”

Nician laughed and slapped his cousin on the shoulder as the prince walked out.

Shock and Awe Chapter 14. The Twilight Zone

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Chapter 14. The Twilight Zone

Peace and Freedom Park, renamed several times through the years, finally evolved into a large park for cities of this size. It was, in fact, the largest park in the city.

One mile in circumference, standing on one end, the community museum operated by the council of tribes that lived in the area. Three stories above ground and two stories underground it was the pride of the community.

The crowning jewel was the casino they built with care and an eye for beauty and nature.

It was a beautiful park, great conifers that towered at the edges of the park. Ancient oak trees that seemed to tell stories by their very presence. The evenings were always peaceful with the ancient guardians of the park.

This evening was no different in the early autumn. In the beauty and space that families would come and play volleyball, touch-football and softball, a wide open area that begged for activity during the summer and weekends, a shadow floated down from above.

Soft whirring sound could be heard just before Radio Check touched down with the dark parasail, so gently that he did not even take a walking step.

From the trees, shadows emerged and moved quickly to Radio Check and relieved him of his heavy burden.

Four shadows on each corner of the package that held his equipment ran back to the road where a van waited and put the bag inside.

Another four shadows collected the wing and electric fan while Radio Check unhooked the harness.

In under a minute, they had packed up and vacated the area.

Climbing into the van, Radio Check was the last one to take his foot off the ground. Looking around, he smiled. It was all according to plan.

Excellent.

 

 

 

Shock and Awe Chapter 10. Going up!

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Chapter 10 Going up!

 

He had nearly dropped the vent in the room of the mainframe, pulling it up by the tips of his fingers, he saw the officer walk by the window. Her shadow stopped and he knew she was coming back to look.

She saw it.

*Damn. Maybe she didn’t know what she saw. * He thought.

Crawling back to the service hatch, he opened it and could hear the verbal commands that squad leaders were given to the men while they were holding the elevator door. They still did not know where he was, this was in the plus column for the operation. One officer,  wounded in the crossfire when he dropped the Chinese firecrackers as a distraction, this went in the minus column. Officers shot was not according to plan, most uniforms were innocents.

Stinger grenades not counting. He stepped over to the positive pressure side of the system and opened the hatch. The inflated fabric balloon had done its job and now was time to retire it.

Pulling a boot-knife, he sliced the material and stuffed it in his backpack, restoring the airflow to the lower levels and data center. He did not want anything to overheat there. Closing the service hatch, he slipped back into the air return and made his way to the elevator shaft.

Stepping gingerly on the steel supports that anchored the box of the elevator car. He squatted down and became part of the machine.

“C’mon, Russ. You are doing okay, just in the car.”

He could hear the woman’s voice clearly.

“I’m so sorry I shot you. Really.”

Friends? Partners? It made him smile. Either way, if the shot officer was a good enough man, they would become closer friends.

Radio Service laughed inwardly, the only outside appearance of his humor was a smile nearly hidden under his long beard. He was a cupid in a twisted sense of the phrase.

The difficult part now accomplished. As an option, he could stop at basement level-1 and mess with the police even more, but he had nothing against the honest men of the SWAT team. The elevator slowed and came to a stop on the main floor. More swat team had come in. Listening to them talk, they knew he was no longer in the bathroom.

Yeah, time to leave. Messing with them now was a game of chance. Thus far, there was nothing left to chance. All according to plan. The Swat level was only an option if time and events looked positive.

Stepping off the elevator car as it began its descent to the dispatch level, he hung on to the service ladder in the shaft.

Four floors of a ladder climb.

Well, three and a half, he would enter into the return vent on the top floor and access the human resources office.

Second floor, detectives level. He should try to figure out something to do there. But— it was not in the plans, so he kept climbing.

Third floor. An option to enter, Commanders, Vice-chief’s office general admin. Nearly all of it on computer. Access was already granted. He would spend far more time looking for tiny bits of information that did not pay them back in benefits.

Cost versus benefit at this point. The cost was too much time versus the risk of capture.

Fourth floor. Chief of Police. Files that were still on paper. Physical access to the stand-alone system that belonged only to the administration and the Chief himself.

Into the exhaust vent he stepped. This one was smaller by about a third. He could not sit straight up, but he could recline comfortably if he chose to.

A first look. A secretary type office. File cabinets, locked with a simple combination padlock, the type that had a keyhole in back.

Worth a look. He tagged the inside of the plenum with a yellow flashing LED light and moved on.

Sliding his thin camera down the vent, he looked at another office. The Chief of Police worked here. A massive desk, sumptuous decor. Pictures on the wall. Books everywhere. A long table on the far side of the room. But a dead-end.

He looked another few meters down. There was another corner. He looked at the Chief’s office again. Nope. There was no room or vestibule to call for a vent.

Making the corner and then to the downward bend, he slipped his snake-eye through the vent. There, a computer. Looked to be cabled for internet. But it was not a city issued piece of hardware.

This was the Chief’s personal computer.

Excellent!

Twisting the camera around, there were small speaker cabinets at four points at the ceiling where the wall met.

Not speakers.

Video cameras.

Oh, quite sly, Chief, quite sly.

Pulling out his tablet, he opened up a sniffer program and let it run for a few minutes. He was ahead on the timetable so he could spare the minutes.

Before the uniforms began a floor by floor sweep, he would still be gone and they would have layers of cordons around the block to look for him.

This group never just sealed a block. They sealed a block three times normally. One might slip through a single line of cops, but the Croix Bay police? It was a minimum of three levels. They had their fair share of fugitives running from other law enforcement. No-one slipped past them, they always got their man.

Well, except for tonight. Around the building they would have all the available patrols. This is right where he wanted them. Running around in the basement, playing war with shadows while he was in the Chief’s personal entertainment system.

Maybe. He was watching the sniffer.

There! A spike in broadcast. A handshake. Data transmitted back and forth.

He sent a corrupted packet, knocking the wifi connection off. The item logging into the computer would fail and need to retry.

And it did. Two times, three times. He used the patience of the machine against itself.

Then he had a break. The complete log in sequence from the cameras. While the camera cycled for yet another attempt to log into the computer, he logged in using the camera’s MAC and identifier.

Although he was in the air duct, he now had control of the computer as if he was sitting at the keyboard.

Intercepting the camera signal, he successfully logged it into his tablet and download the images it had stored. One picture per minute. High resolution. Radio Check nodded, not an unreasonable setup, except for the outdated operating system. A bit of poking around, he found the password file.

The password file was not even encrypted. He downloaded it and sent it on to the radio service, packed up and crawled back to the HR office. Scanning around, a motion sensor was on the wall covering the room.

“Radio service radio check, hardware check.”

“Go ahead. You are on Vee-Oh-Eye-Pee with an IP address.”

“Sending you images. Do you have this under control?”

“Radio check. Copy sensor, it routes through to dispatch. Outer Limits. You are clear.”

It was the most talkative that radio service had been in a long time. Radio Service hated the sound of his own voice and was terse over the open air, but this was downright talkative for him.

He would have to tell Radio Service that he nearly talked Radio Check’s ear off in these few seconds.