[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]
[Click HERE for Part 1]
With Greater Awareness…
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Commander Carl Anderson said to one of the Haven Shore Law Keepers as she left. Alice knew the meeting that just wrapped up was about her – it was in the look the Lieutenant shot her on the way out, and the efforts Anderson was making to avoid looking at Alice.
He sat down at the table and brought up the whole of Alice’s report. Important holographic playback and scan information hovered soundlessly over the twenty-one seat circular table. With a few flicks of his index finger, he removed all but the most important clips from the last few hours.
The first replayed the moment she met with her fellow trainee at her apartment, the second rolled through the moments before she entered the broken down tower, and the third replayed the destructions of the three Ando Model androids. “I’m disappointed,” Carl Anderson said. “But that doesn’t matter. What I need to ask you goes beyond your Ranger training or the way you performed earlier today.”
Alice felt like her heart was beating in her throat, and she searched for some way to explain events that would change the attitude of the meeting. “Anything, Sir,” she croaked instead.
“We’ve tracked the problems with the Ando Models back to an antivirus that was created by Lewis aboard the Clever Dream. We’ve disconnected his main interface line for now.”
“What? You can’t do that! He won’t have access to so much as a display, or a scanner,” Alice protested.
“That’s nothing compared to what the Council wanted done to him. Now, on to that question: Do you think this antivirus will make conditions worse than they were?”
“It can’t be as bad as what the Holocaust Virus did,” Alice said.
“What about the solution the galaxy seems to agree on, wiping the bots back down to their basic functions and disconnecting their wireless systems? In your opinion, is the antivirus a better solution?”
Alice was torn between defending Lewis and the need to be honest. “I wish I knew,” she replied. “I didn’t see the code.” Pretending she was unqualified to make a guess was the safe middle ground.
“So the only one he’s shown this to is Jake,” Anderson replied. “Any idea why?”
“He customized my original code; maybe Lewis thought he’d know enough to appreciate the work?” Alice offered tentatively.
“The Council wants to shut all the bots down. Everything is carrying the antivirus. I think it’s too late, it’s already gotten off-world. Our allies will be told about this later today.”
A full picture of the potential problems the new antivirus could cause started coming together for Alice. Haven Shore could lose every ally it had, from the British Alliance to the Carthans. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“None of that is your fault, that much is clear. The Council doesn’t know all the facts yet, but as usual, the more inexperienced elected civilians are already blaming you for the entire thing. They want Lewis’s core removed and you exiled. Since the Rangers are my project, it’s ultimately up to me, and I can tell you up front: you won’t be exiled.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Alice said. Like much of her military comrades, she’d started to detest the elected civilians on the Haven Shore Council. They reacted like little children, panicking at every loud noise or sign of smoke. She couldn’t understand why Ayan or Commander Anderson didn’t just take control and lead the way themselves.
“Don’t thank me yet,” Commander Anderson said. “We have to consider this.” He gestured towards the three looping holograms. “You knew you were in the wrong when you didn’t report the problem to your superiors,” he said, looking at her through the image of Alice talking to Soren, the technician. “Bots are a sensitive subject with a lot of people right now, and we’re on high alert, watching for any errant behaviour. You ignored all of that, betraying the Rangers and Haven Shore for someone you barely know.”
“I didn’t think it was a big deal yet,” Alice replied.
Commander Anderson waved the first image away and looked to the second. “You know by this point. The recording of your conversation with Lewis makes that clear, and you pressed on. What’s the right move before going into a situation like this?”
“Call Command, forward my report, and request backup,” Alice replied. Her every instinct was telling her to make an argument for acting alone, to make the situation seem better than it was, but she held back.
“I’d almost feel better if you answered that wrong. I could blame the training, but you knew you were in the wrong.” He waved that image away and moved on to the next. “You destroyed the bots when you could have salvaged the situation.”
“They were suffering!” Alice said as she was overwhelmed by a sinking feeling.
“Don’t make it worse, Alice,” Commander Ayan Rice said as she entered the room. She didn’t look at her as she passed by and sat down. She was in the black vacsuit of Haven Shore Security and set her excursion kit down beside her seat. As Alice glanced down at the pack filled with combat and survival essentials, she couldn’t help but notice that Ayan had her sidearm – a Violator handgun just like hers – holstered on her thigh. One of the most visible leaders of Haven Shore went out to investigate Alice’s mess personally. “Let him finish, there’s something to learn here,” Ayan said flatly.
“You could have corrected course when you met the Ando Model Twelve. If you simply deactivated the third one and reported in, we could look past this entirely and conduct an organized investigation. You destroyed these bots because they were suffering? Well, you’re responsible for every Ando that has to suffer because of your actions from here on out. Who knows how many we’ll have to activate to understand what’s going on?” Commander Anderson said, turning towards the window.
For the first time since Alice entered the room, she noticed the full scope of the view from the room they were in. The agriculture tower the British Alliance traded for the cooperation of Haven Shore stood twenty-eight storeys tall. The building was made to grow thousands of tons of food per month, and the first harvests would start coming in within weeks, before the second tower could be completed beside it. “I’m giving you a choice, Alice,” Commander Anderson said. “I understand that it’s your nature to break off and do things on your own. I’ll admit you’re good at it, but it’s gotten you killed in the past when you couldn’t recognize that you were over your head. I want you in the Rangers, I think you could be important to our organization, and I am willing to accept you back into training at Phase Two.”
“But I’ve already saved people,” Alice protested. “Three hundred and fifteen people as a ranger and more before, right after the battle. My other stats – with a squad and without one – are in the top twenty per cent.”
“That doesn’t matter,” Commander Anderson said, shaking his head slowly. “Your strength is in how you act, not how you think, and the Rangers are a thinking outfit. I need you to put thoughts above actions, and in your case, that means training. You either take that or leave the Rangers until you feel you’re ready to retrain from the beginning of Phase Two.”
Alice opened her mouth to speak and closed it when a tear rolled over her top lip and landed on her bottom one.
“The Warlord will be back tomorrow,” Ayan said. “I know your father would be happy to have you on their next mission. You don’t need the Rangers to make a difference, and I’m sure Jake would have training for you.”
“You’d lose your housing,” Commander Anderson said. “Unless you paid the outsider price for it.”
“I will,” Alice said. She’d already made up her mind: leaving on the Warlord was a better option than staying in Haven Shore and returning to training in disgrace. She hated the idea of her father finding out what happened, but it had to be better than what she faced if she stayed. Even though she knew she had little chance at any damage control, Alice couldn’t stop herself from taking another run at saying something to help herself. “This is political, the idiots on the Council don’t know everything, like you said.”
“Yes,” Commander Anderson said. “Politics are part of this situation, and something you would have considered if you took a few minutes to think about what was happening in the jungle, and contacted someone in the chain of command. Now you’re right in the middle and we need to get past this issue so the Council doesn’t fixate on this and sensationalize it. We can’t afford to lose our robotic work force, that’s what’s at stake here, and I’m trying to save your career at the same time by hiding you in our training program until I know you’ll think things through before rushing into dangerous situations.”
“Forget it,” Alice spat. “I don’t want charity from someone who can’t control a bunch of refugees!” She whirled around and rushed from the room.
She didn’t realize that Ayan followed her until she heard her call out, “Alice!” and Alice stopped dead in her tracks, right in the middle of the upper level concourse. Dozens of people looked at her from walkways above and below.
Ayan caught up to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “I know you don’t want to hear this right now, but Doctor Anderson and I are both only doing what’s best for you. If we didn’t care, we’d go along with the Council and put you out.”
Alice tried to suppress her tears and stand up straight, to look strong. “I know,” she managed, even though she still wasn’t sure. She was still furious and grief stricken for all that she’d lose. “You must be so-“
“Angry?” Ayan said as she embraced Alice. “No. I wish you did things differently, I won’t lie, but I also wish word didn’t get out before we were ready to take care of things.”
Alice wasn’t about to say angry. She was sure Ayan was disappointed in her; she was one of the first rangers. Instead of correcting her, Alice let herself be held. The smell of Tonka bean, a product of the nearby jungle, was in the woman’s red hair. The warm fragrance was calming, crying was easier, and she let it happen for a moment before trying to recover her composure. “You’re going to join the Warlord,” Ayan whispered. “And I want you to finish the Phase Two training in your downtime, but do it for yourself. Maybe you won’t even want back into the Rangers after you’re done, but you’ll know you could go if you want to.”
“Why are you being so nice?” Alice asked before she realized she was saying it aloud.
“You remind me of myself when I was younger,” Ayan replied.
“But you never failed,” Alice replied, stepping back to arm’s length and wiping her tears away.
“I did,” Ayan replied. “But I knew how to hide it behind bigger successes. I probably would have been a better person sooner if I failed publicly once or twice. Now, don’t let this get to your heart. You served, and we appreciate it – even if it doesn’t seem like it now – and you’ve done good things. You just have more learning to do, and you’re not the only one.”
“Thank you,” Alice said as she turned away. “Thank you so much.”
“Yeah?” Alice asked, half turning.
“You’re going to be amazing, just take your time,” Ayan said with a warm smile.
COPYRIGHT © 2013 Randolph Lalonde
SPINWARD FRINGE is a Registered Trademark of Randolph Lalonde