ISLAND IN THE SAND
The artificial intelligence built into the complex was different than the one built into the house, and then there was Ninety-One, an artificial intelligence (possibly greater than the other two), and it was independently and strangely installed inside a cumbersome service robot.
“House, if Sly’s band can blow a hole in the wall of that bedroom, then what about the rest of the walls in the dwelling?” Star asked as calmly as she could. “And how long will it take before they all get through that wall into the bedroom they’ve already penetrated?”
“It’s going to say it doesn’t know,” Wren whispered to Star.
They both waited.
“That information cannot be calculated at this time,” the house responded. “It is not known how many humans comprise the ‘all’ of your request.”
Star wanted to swear, but the children were already upset enough from the explosion, and a rising level of fear had returned after having their place of seeming safety now in jeopardized.
“Ask it,” Star said to Wren, in resignation.
“House, how many weapon shots, like the one it took to penetrate the wall, would it take to allow a human to fit inside the bedroom?” Wren asked.
“The penetration through the metallic core approximates one hundred millimeters. Calculating the average human to mass approximately one hundred and sixty kilos and that mass being mostly not malleable, the expected artificial entry damage that would need to be inflicted would require between one hundred forty and one hundred and sixty rounds from such a recoilless rifle.”
Star breathed out an audible sigh.
“How fast can the little service robots repair the hole?” Wren asked, surprising Star.
“The hole is repaired, but the repair is only half as strong as the original wall material,” the house replied.
“Ask about the conduit,” Star ordered.
Stra was now assured that Sly would have to haul tons of ammunition from wherever he got it, fire away at the wall, and then have to penetrate at least three more walls to get to them, all the while the little crawling rat-like robots would be repairing the damage almost too fast for Sly’s weapon to load and blow it out again.
“The conduit tunnel has not been accessed by humans since the continental catastrophe,” the house stated, without having to be asked anything.
“Now it’s a tunnel,” Jameson said, shaking his head, “that’s just great.”
“What is the size of the tunnel and where does it come into the house?” Wren asked.
“The azimuth of the tunnel, in proximity to the dwelling, running from the energy complex to this point is congruent with your current position.”
“What the hell does any of that mean?” Star asked of Wren, but the robot answered instead.
“The direct line of the tunnel’s travel must come in at this very point we are oriented upon,” Ninety-One stated. “The logic of altitude must be factored in.”
“What in the hell is the logic of altitude?” Star turned toward the robot, trying to control her temper since Ninety-One had been the most helpful of all the artificial intelligence entities.
“Ask the house about what lies beneath the dwelling?” Ninety-One said.
“Is there a basement under this dwelling, House?” Star quickly asked.
“There are seven chambers layered under the foundations of this structure. The discussions evident with respect to the conduit tunnel are cogent in that the seventh level houses the lugged hatch access.”
“Now there’s an access to the conduit, a conduit which has become a tunnel,” Jameson said, his voice filled with sardonic ill humor. “Can this get any better?”
“Yes, it can,” Star replied. “If this tunnel can be used to cross back and forth to the complex without having to use the transport, lifts, or go through doors we don’t what’s on the other side of, then this is good news. Of course, that depends upon whether Sly’s band knows about the conduit and has access to it.”
Another thundering jolt was heard from the hallway.
“They’re not going to quit,” Jameson said. “Do we let them just keep pounding away until they get through? Can’t we just take Demos out of the garage and go blast, or do whatever it is that thing said it could do?”
“We can’t trust everything these artificial entities tell us, and I don’t want to risk the transport with Sly’s band. That transport is the key to the whole future of this world.”
“What future, and what have they lied about?” Jameson asked, moving closer to Star until their shoulders were nearly touching.
“The transport can bring everyone back together if we can get past the old beliefs about science and technology. It’s not a plane or anything like what we’ve seen before. There’s probably nothing else like it in the world. We can use it to unite everyone, or at least enough to give hope to our lives again. I don’t want to risk a chance at doing that. You’ve been up there. You know.”
“I’ve been up there,” Jameson replied. “With you. I’ve been everywhere, but with you. Everywhere it’s mattered in my life I’ve been with you, and I haven’t even known you for that long.”
Jameson cradled his rifle with his left arm, hugging the weapon to him like he was doing it for reassurance. With his right hand, he slowly reached out and touched Star’s hair, and then carefully brushed it to one side from where it’d been draping down over part of her forehead.
“I’ve never met anyone like you. I’ve never even thought of anyone like you.” His hand slid to rest on her shoulder.
He slowly pulled his hand back, as Star stood frozen in place, not particularly minding the boy’s touch, but more afraid to offend him than to prevent him from going further.
“Is that the way things are supposed to be?” Jameson asked.
Star didn’t know what to say in answer because she didn’t understand the question. She didn’t know whether to ask one of her own or just simply say yes to his.
“We need to know what they’re doing,” Wren said, seeming to sense the discomfort both Jameson and Star were emanating. “At the complex, we had that screen, or whatever it was.”
Star stepped back from her close contact with the boy, but then gave him a brief stare to communicate the fact that she regretted having to step back.
"You can see everything outside, inside the transport,” Jameson replied, speaking to Wren but his eyes never leaving Star’s.
“In fact, you can see everything outside the thing, but you can’t see anything inside.”
“House is there any way for us to view what’s going on outside the dwelling while we’re inside?” Wren asked.
“Yes,” the house replied, but nothing happened.
A few seconds later Tal and Sol came running to their side, yelling about what was happening on the far side of the big living room.
“What?” Star asked, leaning down to be closer to their level.
“Over there, like the other place,” they both said together, pointing across the room to where the entrance to the garage was, although that area was now covered by a sheet of the be clear metal.
Star, Jameson, and Wren ran back into the room, with Tal and Sol running before them. A ball of bluish light had appeared over the small table that sat in front of the fireplace. The blue ball was almost identical to the ghostly apparition-creating device they’d viewed inside the complex.
True stood to the right of the shoulder high display, but he was bent over slightly and his attention was totally devoted to only one small part of it.
“What is it True?” Star asked, trying not to marvel at the technology in front of her, while not forgetting that the house hadn’t shown them the device when she’d asked about any humans being around the dwelling, any more than it had admitted Sly was outside and about to try to penetrate the wall.
So far, none of the artificial entities had outright lied to them, although Star seemed to recall that the house had said that when the place was sealed up it was impenetrable. She wasn’t certain enough to consider whatever the house had said a lie. But she was becoming ever more certain that the entities, save for Ninety-One so far, invariably and deliberately did not add anything to help make it clear to the humans among them how things worked or what might really be going on.
True stuck his finger inside the display cloud, or whatever it was that allowed the area outside the dwelling to be illustrated up in front of them.
“That’s Spot, working on the front door,” he said, his eyes never leaving the display.
“That’s it,” Jameson said, bringing his rifle up and turning toward the front door they’d come in what seemed like such a long time ago.
“We open the door, and I shoot the guy, and that’s it,” he said, bringing his rifle up to the ready position.
“No,” Ninety-One unexpectedly said. “Ask the dwelling about electricity and the front door mechanisms.”
“House, there’s a member of Sly’s band working to break into the front door,” Wren said. “Can you generate an electrical charge powerful enough to drive him back, maybe for good?”
“It is not likely than any other than an accepted and designated administrator can do much of anything to get inside this dwelling, but I will acquiesce to your wishes.”
Star watched the boy named Spot fly from the front door access area like he’d been shot from a cannon. He landed in a heap at least ten yards from the front door, unmoving, his right hand clutched under him as if to protect, it even though he gave every appearance of being dead or unconscious. Star didn’t care any longer which it was. She examined the display to see what else was going on around the dwelling.
Other than Spot laying still, as if dead, some distance back from the front door and the wind faintly visible blowing through the pine trees off in the distance, there was only one center of continuous activity. Star counted twenty-four boys, with no girls and no children present at all. She felt a shiver at what must have happened to small children the group ran into, as Sly built the size of his small band into a credible tribe, and what would likely happen to most of the members of Star’s own band if they were forced to surrender at some time in the future.
“There are no kids,” Tal noted out loud.
“They probably don't run into many kids,” Jameson replied.
“They do and they kill them,” Wren said, dispassionately.
“Stop,” Star ordered, changing the subject to something more oriented to action. “What are they doing?”
She watched Sly wait with the big tubed weapon, while his band stacked long rounds nearby that had to be the ammunition for it.
Star watched, her full attention glued to the activity at, and around, the south side of the house. The one with two holes in it, more than likely, one repaired and the other probably being repaired. Sly wasn’t stupid, so he wouldn’t keep firing the weapon to no effect. Since he was still willing to punch holes in the wall then he must either know something she didn’t, or he was dumber than she thought.
“What are they building?” Jameson asked, pointing his own finger into the cloudy, yet translucent mist of the revealing video sphere before them.
“Ladders,” Val replied.
“And they’re getting ready to dig too,” True added, pushing his own finger into the mist.
“They’re intent on getting inside here, that’s for sure,” Star said, surprised by just how organized Sly’s siege operation was being implemented. “The door, the roof, the walls and digging into the foundations. It’s almost like he’s done this before somewhere else.”
“House, what are the chances that the foundations of the dwelling can be breached, or the roof penetrated?” Wren asked.
“The dwelling foundations are formed of two hundred millimeters thickness of the metal, while the walls are half that. It is not likely that the foundations will be breached at all unless there is a change to the approach being witnessed just to the south of the structure.”
“What about the roof, Star Black, administrator?" Ninety-One instructed, using her title for the first time, and backing slightly back from the display.
Star wanted to ask the robot why he never addressed the dwelling directly but knew the answer could wait. There was also still the matter of the conduit, but the potential for immediate penetration of the dwelling by Sly’s band took precedence over everything else.
“House, what about the roof?” Star asked, her reservations about the artificial intelligence once again becoming predominant.
The house had been asked about the roof and had not answered. How did it have the capacity to not answer a direct question from an administrator, and possibly worse, why had it not answered?
“The roof can be armored if necessary,” the house said. “The armor has been used through time to protect the dwelling from storms or other threats. The armor works in plates driven by hydraulic actions generated by a pumping device, located on the first level of the basement understructure.”
“Will the roof armor withstand the weapon Sly and his band have brought to bear on the wall to the south?” Jameson asked, and as if by design, another explosion echoed down through the hallway and shook the entire structure.
“If the armor is activated,” the house replied, “it would serve to be a much more difficult surface to penetrate than the walls, if not the upper surface might be even more vulnerable.”
“Activate the roof armor, house,” Wren commanded.
“I’m sorry, but I cannot comply with that request,” the house said, sounding more formal than it ever had before, and giving Star a very bad feeling in the pit of her stomach.