Island In The Sand  

BOOK II PART IX

Star’s mind went into overdrive. Sly, and his newly reinforced band were on the way toward the dwelling. His attempts to break in using heavy firepower and brute force had failed previously, but what else was he capable of coming up with, especially given that Spot had not been killed earlier, as she’d thought?

“The transport’s back in the garage, like it never left,” Jameson reported, again attempting to hand Star’s rifle to her. “I don’t trust these little electronic monsters one bit. How did the transport get over to the delivery area, load tons of food from somewhere inside the complex, move out to the open area near the forest, and then get back so quickly? Not possible. Didn’t happen.”

“I take exception,” Ninety-One said, the bulk of its large metallic structure easing forward until the front of its left tread was nearly touching Star’s right hip.

“I didn’t mean you, Ninety-One,” Jameson said, his tone mollifying. “You’re not one of them. You’re one of us.”

“Thank you,” Ninety-One replied. “Star Black might consider a query to Jordan about exactly what was delivered and where, since the last arrangements were so abruptly and materially modified.”

Star leaned against the tread of the robot, surprised by the level of comfort it gave her to become more and more convinced that the band she had assembled inside the dwelling was indeed organized as a core force of opposition toward most of the world on the outside. Instinctively, she knew that before the outside world could be successfully encountered, she had to have the band united as one. There was nothing except pain, misery and death to be had in demonstrating the easily understood and identifiable characteristics of being prey. They could only hide from the outside world for so long before having to directly encountering it, again.

“House, I would like to be put through to Jordan,” Star said.

“There is no necessity to be ‘put through’ as you describe it,” the dwelling responded. “Jordan is active in acquiring data through either my facility or that of the robot accompanying you.”

“Yes, Star Black, Administrator, I stand ready to respond,” Jordan’s deeper voice came through from all around them.

“Ninety-One,” Star whispered to the robot next to her, as quietly as she could, leaning close to the wound in his vertical stalk, noting that it looked more to her like a wound than simple damage to a piece of tubular metal, “can Jordan really hear what is said to you?”

“No,” Ninety-One replied, “but that does not mean that Jordan does not believe that he can, or say that he believes so.”

“I don’t understand,” Star said, but this time turning back to look at Wren and Jameson.

“You don’t have to,” Wren said, “trust your instincts on this one.”

“I don’t trust them,” Jameson piped in, and then stopped, looking at the robot. “I mean except for this one. I don’t know what his game is but it seems to be the same as our own.”

“Thank you,” Ninety-One replied.

“And stop thanking me,” Jameson said, more frustration in his voice than anger.

“Yes, I will see to that,” Ninety-One replied.

“Enough,” Star hissed. “Jordan, the amount of supplies, and kind, were never discussed with regard to what you provided the tribes. Would you please detail what you provided and where exactly it was placed?”

“The supply amounts were calculated and decided upon in your communication absence,” Jordan replied. “Sly provided the request you yourself indicated you would approve, and this was confirmed by Sven, the purported leader of the larger mass of gathered humans and heavier animals. Twenty-two thousand pounds of dried and freshly canned food, enough varied-size pieces of summer and winter attire, two thousand pairs of boots, two tons of shotgun ammunition of the multiple pellet capacity, and five hundred shot guns of old cloned Benelli manufacture. Also, feed materials and medicines of various kinds were provided for those animals. Many picks and shovels were also supplied, although I have no ability to foresee what they might be used for.”

“Shotguns?” Star breathed out, almost unable to speak from the shock of what she’d heard.

“Yes, as requested,” Jordan said. “As requested, although, using logic I have programed to simulate your own rationality, I modified the request to only include short range weapons of a non-automatic type, along with ammunition more suited for hunting small game rather than other humans.”

“Oh, that’s just great,” Jameson said. “The damn thing is arming the enemy!”

“The tribes outlawed firearms many years ago,” Star said, more to herself than to the entity. “How is it possible that they would violate this oath now, and why isn’t it likely that they could very easily remake the shotguns to be automatic and reload the shells you gave them?”

Jordan did not answer, although the room was silent for at least a full minute.

“Don’t,” Wren said to Star. “Sly’s on the way. Shotguns don’t matter right now, and neither does where they were delivered. At least the tribes will be leaving, for the most part, and we’ll only have to deal with Sly and his band again. Sly has rifles, and more, so the shotguns make no difference to our situation.”

“Sly has reached your location, against my best advice,” Jordan said.

“You only advise against violence, while you support it with weapons and ammunition,” Star blurted out, not able to stop herself, although knowing that Wren was right.

The real threat was already upon them. The rest didn't matter yet.

“We cannot risk that Spot might be able to somehow force entry through the electronic system guarding the front,” Wren said. “The garage door can be opened at will by the dwelling, which has so far not given any indication that it does not support our efforts. Jameson can stand ready to use his rifle if any attempt is made toward what has to be the least secure entry point to this place.”

“Perfect, Wren,” Jameson replied, “the garage door goes up, I sight in, take the shot, and then the door slams shut. Perfect.”

“The security and maintenance of the dwelling is the first objective in accomplishing my mission,” the house said. ‘Your security is perfectly in line with that of my mission and objective.”

“I think that means House is with us,” Jameson said.

“Ninety-One?” Star asked, trying to get her mind around why Sly would have returned to the nearly impregnable dwelling after having no luck before.

“The friend of my friend is my friend,” the robot intoned as if reading. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

“Yes, I remember that from somewhere,” Star replied, “but what of the new stronger force out there? Why would Sly need more bodies? The tribesmen are technically inferior to even Sly’s capability.

“Picks and shovels,” Ninety-One said.

“Yes, we heard that too, but what the hell does it mean?” Star asked back.

“Damn,” both Harriet and True said together, from a position further back in the room. Star looked in their direction, noting that Sol and Tal were again climbing all over the back of the robot. Was that a good thing?

“Damn what?” Star asked.

“We’re on the edge of a cliff here,” Harriet said, moving to the windows overlooking the valley before them. “The cliff is solid rock, but part of it is covered with earth and god knows what else.”

“Picks and shovels,” Star said, her voice indicating she was still puzzled by the inference Harriet was trying to make.

“They’re going to dig,” True said, moving up to join Harriett. “No matter how long it takes or how deep they have to go.”

“So, they do it to get in, and then get shot or shocked, or whatever?” Star replied.

“No, it’s a siege thing,” True, said. “If a siege can be conducted for long enough then the defender always loses. They won’t be digging to get in. They’ll be digging to unloosen the whole structure from the cliff and plunge it into the valley down below.”

“House, do you have visual of the approaching humans?” Star asked.

“Not currently, but I believe soon,” the entity replied. “My sensors indicate that the group is broken up into distinct parts and comprises approximately one hundred humans and twenty, or so, of those larger animals.”

“The guns,” Ninety-One whispered to Star.

Star looked over at the robot, trying to get the meaning of what he’d said.

“Jordan gave guns to the gathered forces opposing you,” the robot said, without Star having to say anything. “You may address that issue directly and order the entity not to manufacture or distribute weapons or ammunition to any humans without further notice. The entity will not go against a specific order, which you have difficulty in giving.”

“Difficulty?” Star asked, in surprise. “I have difficulty because I can’t predict what any of the entities are going to do before they do it. My orders come too late. What else am I missing?”

“The defense of this dwelling,” the robot replied. “The use of the transport. What is on the singularity’s mind? The Distants. Do you want me to continue?”

“No,” Star replied.

As always, since they’d fallen down the vent hole, seemingly so long ago, she knew she had to deal with the immediate threat first. Once again, without surviving or even being out of enough fear to make credible and rational decisions, she couldn’t expect herself to make rational decisions.

“Jordan,” she began, talking to the house, coming to the full realization that the entities, in one form or another, were always listening, and probably recording everything visually, as well. “Make no more weapons unless specifically instructed to do so by me. Do not hand out, issue, or give, any weapons or ammunition of any kind to any human without specific authorization from me. If authorization is not given because of communications problems, then do not follow your own programming. Obey my orders.”

“I will work within the confines of the rules you have established,” Jordan replied.

Star almost let her shoulders sag. Once again, the entities could not engage in directness or even give much lip service to avoiding it.

“I want to you to repeat exactly what I told you and I want that entered into your permanent hard drive memory,” Star replied, with some anger in her voice.

“I possess no hard drive, and all my memory is permanent, but I shall make special note of your order,” Jordan repeated the order back, word for word.

“I want the transport totally under my control,” Star said, trying to settle her emotions down. “I do not want any other human to instruct or order it to do anything, and I don't want you to either. Repeat that back too.”

Jordan repeated the sentences, but there was a note of something emotional in the entity’s voice that Star didn’t like. She wondered how she was supposed to ask an artificial intelligence how it felt about something.

“How do you feel about this?” Star asked, having no other idea of how to proceed.

“What is ‘this,’ and also, I do not feel, as you have come to know it in your biologic life. I am the entity named Jordan, the name was given to me by my ancient human handlers, and I control the energy complex and some other related structures and operations.”

“Do you think Star’s orders are wise and proper?” Wren asked the entity over Star’s shoulder.

“It is my conclusion that the orders are definitive and adequate,” Jordan replied.

“See, give it up Wren,” Star breathed out.

“The Singularity,” Ninety-One said. “You’ve got the transport, the dwelling, full committed communication, if not full cooperation from Jordan, and any actions taken by Sly and his larger assembly of rabble will be quick in coming but very slow in execution. The singularity is not to be ignored or avoided, however.”

“All right,” Star said, angling her head around more to move than to clear any kinds or stiffness. “Where exactly does this singularity transport someone too, and what happens to that being while there, or wherever it is they’ve gone? Finally, how does anyone get back?”

“Has it occurred to you,” Ninety-One replied, “that the decisions of all the entities you’ve encountered, with the exception of myself, appear to make decisions more independent than pre, or ongoing programming, might permit? Programs cannot be programmed to write and act upon programs written by other programs.”

“Then how do you explain what you just said and the fact that you seem to be about as ‘programmed’ as any human being I’ve ever met?” Star responded, wondering if the conversation was going to head into the sensitive area she so feared. Were the Distants real? Were the entities indeed programmed, but by living humans hidden somewhere?” It was just too far-fetched to believe that humans, prior to the asteroid strike, were somehow able to predict everything that had happened and then write programs that could deal with it. There had been no time. The asteroid had hit, the earth had been shaken to its core, producing tsunamis so high they crossed the continent completely. The land had fractured in mere hours, going from a solid continent to something that more resembled a thick mountainous ring with a water-buffered giant island in its center.

“I am an anomaly that I cannot explain,” Ninety-One replied. “I simply am.”

“The humans are approaching from the forest in a massed frontal formation,” the house stated.

“All right everyone, get ready,” Star said, not really knowing what ‘getting ready’ was, but it sounded about right.

“The Singularity has the ability to transport you to its location without your acceding to such a transfer,” Jordan said.

“If the Singularity desired that conclusion then you would already have been transported,” Ninety-Nine said, very quietly, almost as if he didn’t want the singularity to hear him.

“The hell with the Singularity, we have business to attend to here, first,” Star said, heading for the garage.   “Let’s gather in the transport, even though I don't believe Sly has anything powerful enough to truly affect the dwelling.”

“It would appear, according to my sensors, that there is considerable activity beyond the edge of the forest,” the house said.

“Damn it,” Jameson said, turning to follow Star at a run.

“They’re going to dig down to the connecting tunnel.”

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