[If you have no idea what this post is about, and want to start at the beginning of the series, you can find Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins free wherever quality EBooks are sold. Amazon Barnes & Noble Smashwords iBookstore]
With Greater Awareness…
Her report to the Haven Shore Strategic Centre was filed in-flight. Her duties were fulfilled, and there was still a little light left in the day. The crew of the Warlord and many Haven Shore residents were taking a day off at the beach. After the last few hours of the long day on Tamber, the terraformed moon would be overshadowed by its brother moon and the planet it orbited, Kambis.
Alice enjoyed hanging out with Ashley, who had adopted her as a little sister. Even though she had the intelligence and experience to plan ahead when it came to her duties, Ashley was a great example of someone who enjoyed living in the moment, and she made every moment she could enjoyable.
Alice had gotten to know nearly all of the other Warlord crewmembers as well, and liked most of them. Work on the ship was nearing completion, and even though she’d spent half her time as a ranger, she couldn’t help but be proud of how it was turning out. The restoration seemed to take forever with so few people working on it, but months of ceaseless labour and good teamwork yielded undeniable results.
When the ship was ready, Alice would be going off-world with her father. There was no doubt about the decision, but she’d miss the more interesting ranger missions. Saving people in the wreckage of Port Rush, searching for old research bunkers on the island of Haven Shore, or keeping watch over cultivation crews as they picked fruit in the jungle. There were large carnivorous cats with glinting eyes, and curious monkeys who would steal from the pickers’ bags if they got too close. There were many other dangers as well, snakes, nests of widow beetles, and so on, but monkeys and big cats were the most problematic.
The notion that she’d just done her last run as a ranger for weeks, maybe months, maybe ever, was just sinking in as the main Haven Shore settlement came into view. Her fighter slowed as she neared the new docking facility. The settlement took advantage of the hard, time tested cliff face. Many small landing platforms and the framing of several buildings were anchored into the side of the stone. Atop the cliff was the port building proper, a bulbous, irregular dome that was still under construction. The main lower levels were finished, but the skin of the dome would be stretched upwards and expanded as more floors were added.
The first usable housing building was half finished. The hollow structure was already large enough to house everyone who had arrived with them at Haven Shore; even she had an apartment there. Haven Shore Navnet took control of her Ramiel fighter and guided it towards the centre of that smooth shelled, oval building.
The ship descended into the hollow centre of the Everin Building. The twenty-one storey building seemed squat from above, but she couldn’t help but marvel at its size as her ship was led to a soft landing halfway down the centre of the structure on a small retractable landing pad. Freeground technology, fabrication systems from the Triton, and mountains of supplies that Ayan and her people bartered for went into the quickly constructed building.
The blue and green tinted floors and walls were once layers of cloth and viscous liquid. Using nanotechnology and magnetic fields, the place was shaped wall by wall, room by room, and the materials hardened into light but incredibly strong structures. The Everin Building wasn’t so much built as it was shaped, or orchestrated. It was still a shell for the most part, with only bare rooms and the most basic amenities, but when it was finished, it would be fully modern. The small vehicle bay in the bottom level of her apartment would deliver her fighter to a central area where it would be serviced, then it would be returned using Haven Shore’s transportation system, which would extend to every floor of the building through branching rails and lifts.
Alice climbed from her fighter as the landing platform retracted into her apartment. She would borrow one of the antigravity skids or catch a ride with someone heading towards the beach. She dropped her ranger kit in the middle of her small gathering room – a space she hadn’t had a chance to fill with more than a couple of portable chairs – and checked herself in the mirror. After a moment of trying to get her hair into a manageable pile and adding a little makeup, she gave up and headed for the door.
Thoughts of leaving Haven Shore and her situation of increasing comforts were fading as she started looking through swimsuit shapes for her vacsuit. She was already smiling at the idea of the beach trip and relaxing with friends for the first time in two weeks, but her eagerness faded as she opened her door and saw a young man sitting beside it, nodding off.
He got to his feet with a start, and she recognized him. He was wearing a yellow and white worker’s vacsuit, and was barely out of his teens. His name was Soren, and he left ranger training after a week and a half. He was savvy with technology, but couldn’t keep up physically, and hesitated in mock combat. “Alice, I’m sorry for coming here like this, but you weren’t on Crewcast, everything just went to your mail.” He looked bone tired, and saddened.
“I turn it off while I’m on patrol,” Alice said. “What’s wrong?”
“Right, I forgot, that’s procedure: official communications only when you’re in the field. I would have brought this to the Council’s attention, and I know they’d send a ranger to take care of it, or maybe even just normal Haven Shore security, but I wanted you. I mean, I know you from training, and I think you’d,” he stammered, “maybe you could take care of this?”
“Just take your time, I’ll help if I can,” Alice said, leading him into her apartment.
“Okay,” he said, taking in the small main room. “You could use some furniture.”
“Tell me about it,” Alice replied. “Your problem?”
“Yeah, well, when I washed out from the rangers I applied for a position in robotics, and I didn’t think I’d get it because my scores as a ranger trainee were bad at best, but mostly incomplete. They didn’t care. I got a spot on a team working on making network detached helper and builder bots out of the ones we bought for next to nothing on the mainland.”
“I’ve seen a bunch working, those little skitters that follow the workers around,” Alice said.
“Yeah, they’re working out great, even with some of the weird stuff that’s been going on. A lot of us anthropomorphise bots when we’re working on them, talk to them like people or kids who came in with a scraped knee or something even before we’ve switched them back on. It makes the day go by, and it’s pretty funny when we catch each other doing it, but some of the bots started really reacting to it after the lights go on, and in the last few weeks we’ve found skitters and loaders that are forming distinct personalities. It’s because of some kind of antivirus someone added to their base code. We didn’t see it at first, but it’s in all our software now. It spreads like a virus, but once it’s in something, it’s like an antivirus against the Holocaust Virus and everything like it. The personalities these bots are taking on are harmless, all basic directives and programming still applies, so we’ve been letting it go on.”
“Something’s gone wrong,” Alice said, dreading what would come next. Anything involving the Holocaust Virus meant the worst kind of trouble.
“Yeah, but only one other tech and I know about it, so I told her to sit tight while I bring this to you. If we report this to the Council, they’ll shut down all robotics and investigate. I might get fired for not reporting it sooner, and I don’t want to get put out of Haven Shore. You’ve seen the world out there? It’s chaos in most cities and expensive everywhere else. I’ve even heard rumours of cannibalism in the Yellow Hook Plain.”
“They only put out the worst, and failure to report a problem like this is nowhere near, unless something went berserk and killed someone?” Alice asked.
“No, but three bots, advanced android Ando-Twelve types, ran off. They look just like humans, so they got around perimeter security. They’re in the middle of the jungle as far as I can tell, and they took an EMP pistol from our emergency supplies.”
“They didn’t hurt anyone on their way out?”
Soren shook his head. “No, but I think all this has something to do with their wireless systems. We didn’t want to take the hours we’d need to disable them before turning them on. Ando-Twelves’ wireless systems are nested in their main processor clusters, so you need to direct nanobots to disconnect it in thousands of places. That used to make them highly connected and quick to respond to changing situations, great for assistant bots, but with the Holocaust Virus and that other thing out there, it could be bad.”
“So you were going to let them run around with their wireless on?” Alice asked.
“Nope. The fastest way to disable the wireless on an Ando is to ask them to do it themselves, but they have to be on first.”
“Gotcha. Why do you think they left and the other bots didn’t?”
“Have you ever met an Ando-Twelve?” Soren asked.
“I don’t think so,” Alice replied.
“That’s the thing; they’re sophisticated synthetic humans, expensive, used for the care and hospitality industries. You’ve probably met a few and not even known it. We thought they’d be safe androids because they’re hard-wired pacifists, the Holocaust Virus just shut most of them down.”
“But it didn’t send them running like this?” Alice asked.
“No. They just couldn’t violate their core directives, so they powered down, or fried their own batteries if they couldn’t do that. I don’t know what this new antivirus is doing to them, though. And I can’t communicate with any of them to find out, either. Please don’t turn us in. This is the best job I’ve had, and it’s been great here ever since we got out of those storage containers. It’s even better than how I was living before the Virus.”
“I’ll do some tracking for you, but I’m going to report these bots as rogue eventually,” Alice said. “If they’re harmless, then I might be able to file something about them just going for a walk thanks to some bad code.”
“That’s perfect, thank you.”
“If this is all harmless,” Alice said. “I can’t make promises.” She picked up her ranger kit and holstered her sidearm. “Stay here while I track your bots down, I’ll tell you before I file my report.”
“Thank you so much,” Soren repeated.
Alice was already getting tired of hearing him say ‘thank you,’ and couldn’t help but offer a snide reply as she left him behind in her apartment. “Just stay here, don’t talk to anyone. Order some ramen from the concourse, I’ll try to be back with your bots before delivery’s at the door.”
COPYRIGHT © 2013 Randolph Lalonde
SPINWARD FRINGE is a Registered Trademark of Randolph Lalonde