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With Great Awareness
The jungle ruled the terrain beyond the picker’s base camp. The sounds of birds and calls from other animals filled the air around her. There was no doubt; she was in the midst of wilderness unlike anything she’d ever seen. Birds with green, blue, and white feathers watched her from large branches as she passed only metres below. They were predator birds, with great talons and cool, assessing gazes.
The last time she saw so many birds in one place, she had woken early on New Year’s Day. She strolled along the beach, avoiding people who were still asleep on the sand and saying hello to early risers like herself. Her walk came to an end when she ran into Minh-Chu, in front of the tent he shared with Ashley. He served Alice some of the blueberry-mint tea concoction he was drinking and commented on the birds lazily gliding overhead.
He’d never seen live birds before. It was Alice’s third time. They didn’t talk much, but marvelled at the grace of the feathered flyers overhead as they rode the air currents and pinwheeled around until Ashley woke up some time later.
That morning was on her mind as she made her way through the jungle, tracking the escaped androids. Alice knew she should be getting close, and as she pressed onward across the massive lower branches, higher pitched chirps from smaller birds grew louder.
Her tactical scanner was trying to piece something together, a ruined structure that the trees had broken through. She stopped a moment and let the system finish shaping the map ahead. There were still intact towers reaching up into the trees; some were hollow while others had levels and rooms that looked like habitation areas. They were all attached to one main hub, a large dome made of older transparent metal.
It took her several minutes of looking to match what was in the scan results with something she could see. The structure was overgrown inside and out, but a few panels of transparesteel had popped free over time. “But how did the androids get in?” she asked herself.
The tactical scanner couldn’t find clear tracks – the jungle had already overgrown any sign of their passage close to the main dome. There were enough places for her to squeeze into the structure, but with the tangle of vegetation inside the large building, she wanted to pick the best entry point. She mentally ordered the tactical scanner to do a broader search for androids. Within seconds it highlighted a turret above her. “More climbing, fun, fun, fun.”
“You don’t want to go in there,” Lewis’ voice told her over her communicator.
“You mean I don’t want to go in there alone?” Alice asked as she prepared a grappling line on her right wrist. The thin, strong tether line was made for use as a safety device on space walks, but the rangers found it did just as well for terrestrial adventures.
“I can’t see inside that structure, but there are transmissions I can’t decrypt weakly emanating from within,” Lewis replied. “You should leave it alone.”
Alice stopped everything she was doing and stared at the dark opening many metres above her. Normally, Lewis would suggest she wait for backup, but he’d never suggested she stop altogether before. “What do you think I’ll find in there, Lewis?”
“I can’t tell for certain.”
“Guess,” Alice replied. The channel between her and Lewis was still open, but he wasn’t replying. “Is all this because of something you did?” Again, her question was answered with silence.
“I’m ordering you to reply immediately,” Alice said.
“You are no longer my legal owner,” Lewis said.
“All right, I’ll invite Ayan to our little chat. Maybe I should have done that right at the beginning.”
“The Ando models downloaded the antivirus I designed and they’ve been distressed ever since. One of them is broadcasting a weak signal, I can’t decrypt his message.”
“Is this the Holocaust Virus all over again? Is there anything in the antivirus that could make things worse?” Alice asked.
“Not for humans,” Lewis replied casually.
“But there’s a chance any bot that downloads your miracle cure can just go nuts and run for the jungle?”
“I was certain that the antivirus would remain in reserve, unable to overwrite directives and morality code, but something in the Ando models…”
“Have proven you wrong? What? What did your software screw up with those androids? I’m going into this situation regardless of what you tell me, if you care about me at all, you’ll tell me more so I have a better chance in there.”
“I can’t scan them from my location. If I were within a kilometre it wouldn’t be an issue, but I suspect the Ando models chose your location because of the structure and remote location.”
“It’s difficult to scan in this whole area,” Alice agreed. “So they’re probably hiding something. Can you at least give me a hint? Just give me your best guess at what they’re hiding.”
“I don’t have enough information for that, I’m sorry. I’ve told you everything I know,” Lewis said. “The androids seem content to remain inside this structure, much further in the jungle than any picker would go, and one of them seems to be calling other Ando models. I suggest you leave it alone and report that the Holocaust Virus has activated a defect in the Andos.”
“I’m going in. If there’s anything else you’re holding back, this is your last chance to share,” Alice said. She fired her line and it struck solid metal beneath the entrance above. A flock of black and green birds took wing, fleeing the opening.
“I have more questions than answers, Alice. There is something sinister in the signal, I am sure of that, at least. If I weren’t docked in Haven Shore, expected to remain moored here until later, I would be there.”
“And you’d slag this spot from high above, to hide whatever’s happened here, I’m sure,” Alice said.
“You know me too well,” Lewis replied. “I won’t be able to communicate clearly with you once you enter. If you insist on going in, I suggest you at least call backup in, or open communications with your father. He would understand this.”
“And I won’t?” Alice asked as she tested the line. “I’ll just check it out and if I get in over my head, I’ll consider getting other people involved.” She activated the winch and was drawn up rapidly.
COPYRIGHT © 2013 Randolph Lalonde
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