ISLAND IN THE SAND
Book 2 Part V
Star stepped forward and exited the lift, feeling Jameson following right behind her. Upon clearing the open doors and making certain that there were no threats present, she turned to examine Ninety-One. The robot had not moved. It stood so tall, the top of its central core stalk almost touched the ceiling of the conveyance.
Star had been as struck by the robot’s last comment, when the doors had opened, as she was with the image of a stake, protruding directly out of the robot’s core.
“You’re hit?” Jameson asked of the robot, bringing his own weapon down to his side.
There was no enemy to stay on guard for. The lift they had entered on the surface existed further toward the ladder, further in the distance that they’d descended, in what seemed like so years before. The energy complex control sphere unmistakably raised up in its shiny silver distinctiveness, stood in the distance, as it had every time in the past. There were no other living or artificial beings in sight.
“Can you move forward out of the lift?” Star asked, her mind beginning to take in what it would mean if the robot was somehow taken totally out of action.
The Singularity might be the entity occupying Ninety-One and using his husk as a mobile extension, but the evidence on that was slim and almost none. The robot had become the single intellect with any extensive knowledge of the complex and all its mysteries, and it had also become the band’s, and her, trusted friend.
“The spear was thrown by the human you refer to as Sly,” Ninety-One said, his treads moving slowly as he exited the lift. “It would appear that the human did indeed have a serious injury in mind when he threw the weapon, as he seemed to be celebratory in expression.”
Jameson put his rifle down, leaning it against the metal wall, and walked closer to the robot.
“You want me to pull the thing out?” he asked, feeling the spear’s haft to see how solidly it’d penetrated into Ninety-One’s interior.
“That would appear to be the best course of action or treatment,” the robot replied.
Jameson murmured over to Star, while he worked to examine and hopefully remove the spear from the robot’s center stalk.
“I don’t think Sly or anybody else for that matter is good enough at throwing a spear to determine whom it might strike at the distance it had to have been thrown from. So much for them not wanting to hurt us.”
Star joined Jameson in front of Ninety-One.
“It’s stuck pretty tight,” Jameson observed. “Let’s pull it out together.”
With both of them pulling and working the haft of the spear back and forth a bit, the spear was slowly withdrawn from the robot’s main body. The light, but substantial, weapon had penetrated a forearm’s length into the inner workings of the machine, once it had gone through the relatively thin “skin.”
Star looked into the hole but there was nothing to be seen that she recognized.
“You feel okay?” Star asked the robot, not knowing what to expect for an answer.
“There is no feeling of pain,” Ninety-One replied. “I do not experience physical pain as you know it to be. However, an operational capability is another matter. I have lost the ability to receive transmissions from the Singularity, the dwelling and the entity you refer to as Jordan. I am as yet unsure whether those entities can receive transmissions from me at this point.”
“Is that good or bad?” Jameson asked of Star.
“I don’t know,” Star replied. “It sort of puts an end to the duality of Ninety-One and the Singularity, though. If the Singularity was the actual artificial intelligence we’ve been dealing with through Ninety-One all along then there should be no capability for him to act or communicate independently at all. But here he is, talking like a Magpie, as usual.”
“I believe a Magpie is a bird,” the robot said.
“True,” Jameson replied, “on both counts.”
“Ninety-One,” Star said, her voice flat and gently demanding. “Do you have the same mental capacity, memory and problem-solving talents you had before the spear struck you?”
“Good question,” Jameson said, once more taking his weapon and slinging it over his shoulder.
“Actually, no,” Ninety-One replied.
“What capabilities have you lost?” Star asked.
“I was referring to the question,” Ninety-One said. “The question was not a good question because mental capacity encompasses memory and problem-solving talents. There was no need to mention those two.”
“Oh, he sounds just fine to me,” Jameson replied, nodding his head with a smile.
“The kids are inside the dwelling with the others,” Star said, “the transport’s there too. We’re here with the thousands sent against us up there on the outside. Sly’s there with those forces from the west coast, and he’s got Spot to work the electronics and computer system to whatever capability we don’t know. What do we do now?”
The robot sat silent and unmoving for almost a full minute, while Star and Jameson waited.
“Ah, a test of my mental capabilities, I presume,” Ninety-One finally said.
The robot reflected for a few more seconds.
“Attack,” Ninety-One finally said. “There’s no way to determine exactly what the capabilities of the enemy are and it is very apparent that violence is one of the many tools this enemy will use to accomplish its mission. There is no other place to run or retreat too that I can think of. Therefore, since your allies harbor high and overwhelming superiority in all areas, attack and damage the enemy to the point where it becomes a more reduced force, and therefore reestablish them as a force but with a more favorable disposition.”
“That’s our Ninety-One, all right, and I think our boy told you to go ahead and kick Sly’s butt, along with his misguided companions,” Jameson said, with a barely suppressed laugh.
“Other than the nebulous weaponry supposedly contained inside the transport, what do we have to hit this ‘enemy’ with?” Star asked.
“Hit them back with, since it is this enemy that has struck the first blow,” Ninety-One began. “It would appear likely that this huge force of foraging humans, accompanied by another huge number of transport animals, is very likely to camp near the outer edge of the forest they entered earlier. It’s a problem of logistics. To survive, the group needs a certain amount of water, food, game and also occupying entertainment. Humans do not remain inactive in large groups well. Inquire of Jordan about producing a good number of the traditional canned goods you have grown to become accustomed to yourselves. Use the transport to place those goods out on the plains just beyond the edge of the forest. Have Jordan also produce approximately five thousand tons of conventional explosives for the transport to deliver to the plain at an observable but more distant location there. When the human forces, properly alerted, seek the food, then the explosives can be detonated as one, to sow fear into the enemy hearts and also to allow them to observe what only the least beginnings of your destructive capability really might be.”
“Wow,” Jameson breathed out. “I don’t think Ninety-One has ever said anything that long before. And I have to admit I’ve not heard better news from him either.”
“Wow, is right, and not just because of the length,” Star replied, as awed by the robot’s presentation as Jameson was. “But, what about logistics? How can the transport carry that much explosive?”
“The transport is automated and there is no end to its fusion power,” Ninety-One responded. “The transportation and unloading of both food and explosives supplies will take many trips but can be completed in something less than three hours.”
“Wow, again,” Jameson exclaimed. “So, the plan is to scare them to death? Those people have been a long time out on the plains getting by since the asteroid strike. What if they aren’t properly terrified? What if they just say “oh well,” and attack anyway?”
“It is not my decision,” Ninety-One replied. “Your question, Star Black, Administrator, was what to do now. I have made a suggestion. A small adjustment to the placement of the pyrotechnics, to a closer proximity to the food supply, would yield casualties that might well decimate the entire force or a good part of it, but I believe you spoke earlier on that subject and wanted to avoid as many human deaths as possible.”
“I like the scare plan better,” Star concluded, flicking her eyes over towards Jameson. “I’m not going to supposedly start the recovery of this planet by killing thousands of its human inhabitants.”
“I’m not sure you really believe that but what the hell,” Jameson responded.
“Should the first plan fail then more explosives can be brought forth, and placement can again be addressed. The amount of conventional explosives producible is nearly unlimited, or the alternative of fission or fusion explosions can be considered” Ninety-one said.
“And that is what I mean,” Star replied, knowing in her heart that the robot was not going to understand what she was talking about.
“What about repairs for your damage?” Star asked, not wanting to discuss the attack any further until she’d had more time to think and consult with the others back at the dwelling. “Let’s get inside and seal this off first, though.”
Star remained well aware that Sly had ways to get around the security provided by the complex. She wasn’t sure that the security systems failed before or whether the complex was making them fail to favor Sly, but each time that the boy and his band seemed defeated they arose again to challenge and bring the very real risk of violence or death to her own band.
Once inside, Star immediately went to the console, as Jameson dogged down the hatch. She hated leaving Ninety-One out of the sphere and the discussion she meant to have with Jordan, but the robot was simply too massive to get into the small space. There was no time to send the robot off for repair, either. Ninety-One had proven so dependable and correct that there was no way she was going to have the band do without him, particularly since the spear incident. It did not appear at all that the singularity was telling the truth about being the robot or being able to fully access its material.
Star filled Jordan in on the plan to provide food and then a demonstration of might to the marauding band. Jordan offered no opinion, but also did not offer to extend the damage zone to include casualties. The number of trips the transport would have to make back and forth to haul the as yet to be created explosives was mind-boggling but meaningless to Jordan. A five-kiloton explosion was huge. It was important to get the effect just right, however, which meant that the placement and stacking of the explosives themselves would have to be precisely calculated and then the explosives timing to go off just short of causing real physical damage on the marauding tribes had to be exact.
Somehow the “grandfather” of the attacking force had to be made aware that food would be provided. The explosion would come as the dessert, Star reflected. The demonstration would be far enough away to avoid injury to the men of the attacking force but she also wanted to make certain that the force of it would not hurt the beautiful forest either.
“Jordan, Ninety-One was injured,” Star said to the entity. “Can you repair the damage without sending him into the facility for a complete rebuild or renewal or whatever you call it?”
“That’s not possible at this time,” Jordan replied. “It is also highly improbable that the communications failure suffered from this injury took place in an area of the service robot where communications writing and data streams are to be found.”
Star rubbed her face with both hands. She wondered about what was real and what was not. Whom to believe and whom to doubt? It had not occurred to Star, until Jordan mentioned the damage, that Ninety-One might indeed be tethered to the singularity and also that he might seek to sever that more powerful entity’s control by using the damage as an excuse.
Before anything was done with large-scale explosions, even if performed with conventional explosives, she had to talk to Ninety-One. He’d lost the ability to communicate with the other entities, and if he’d done that on purpose, then it was because he had something to tell Star that could not be known to the rest of the band. The robot had no reason to act on its own behalf unless there was even more than Star did not know or understand. She shivered at the thought.