Island In The Sand
Star awakened at the beckoning of a soft, distant, voice.
“Only Star Black, Administrator, please attend,” flowed softly across the floor to her ears.
She turned her head, trying to figure out what ‘attend’ meant.
“Oh, Jordan,” she answered, her voice bleary and wondering how long the thing had been calling her. She wrapped a threadbare blanket around here and approached the console. None of the others had awakened, all being so exhausted that they were getting as much sleep as they could. She looked at her watch in the dim light. It was only four in the morning on the outside of the complex.
“What do you want now, machine? And if, as you say, I’m the administrator then the administrator is instructing you to stop calling me ‘Only Star Black’. My name is Star Black, period!”
Star’s brain finally came fully back online and she quickly caught herself before Jordan had time to respond.
“Star, the name is Star. There’s nobody else you’re likely to talk to that will be named that. Just call me Star.”
“Star, my name is not ‘Machine,’” the voice replied. “I shall do as instructed, Star,” Jordan continued, although Star noted that its tone, impossible as it seemed, reflected something that sounded a whole lot like regret.
“Why did you wake me?” Star asked, feeling more rested and secure than at any time she could remember in her whole life.
“You did not initiate any security protocols for contacting you in case of potential threats, so I thought it best to contact you directly at this time.”
“I don’t know what security protocols are,” Star responded, sighing deeply in frustration. “Why do you need them now?”
“There are humans outside of the door. You must instruct as to what you want to do about them if anything.”
Star’s mind surged into overdrive as she came fully awake in an instant. Discarding the blanket and jumping to her feet she turned to the prone figures of Jameson and Wren, nudging each with her foot.
Both jerked awake at her rough touch.
“Trouble,” she whispered, kneeling down at their sides. “Sly’s outside with his band, I think, and I don’t know what to do. Not yet, anyway. We’re trapped. You’re pretty certain, Jameson, that nobody else has been down inside this complex before; nobody like maybe a repairman or janitor might be around?”
“I’ve been coming down here for years, although I’ve never explored the whole place,” Jameson said, standing up. “I’ve never seen anyone, or any trace of anyone else, having been here, but I don’t know for sure.”
Star stood, joining Jameson, and approached the console. “Jordan, we think we know who’s out there, but we’re not sure. Is there any way you can help us know? We need something that will give us a hint.” The mid-air-display they were looking at changed instantly, from the lighting diagram it had been showing to a view of the area outside the sphere’s door. Star stepped back in shock.
“It’s supposed to be dark out there,” she spoke almost silently, as Wren came to his feet behind her. All three stood in silent awe, tinged with fear. The image in the air showed a group of young boys moving around, with a small fire providing some light. Two of the boys were bathing in the moat’s clean pure water.
“Augmented vision has been initiated,’ Jordan stated as if in answer to the question Star had not asked.
“This facility using infra-red, radar and X-ray, as well as normal manipulative optics.”
“The only part I understand is the X-ray part, and I don’t like the sound of that,” Star said.
“They’re ruining the water,” Jameson complained. “We need that water for drinking. “How much water do you have in storage Jordan?” he worriedly asked Pick.
“We do not store water or any of the liquid substances we may place in the security ring you refer to as a moat,” the machine replied.
“That’s it? What’s out there is all you’ve got?” Jameson asked, his voice rising.
“Yes, that is all,” Jordan responded. “But our capacity to synthesize and produce the different liquid substances you may require is quite extensive. With virtually unlimited power capability the facility can produce a hundred and forty-four thousand gallons a minute.”
“How much water is in the moat?” Star asked.
“Fifty-four thousand, five hundred gallons of pure water.”
“Wow,” Wren said. “You can make enough water to fill the whole moat in less than a third of a minute?”
“No,” Pick answered. “The water takes twenty-two-point-thirty-three seconds to synthesize.”
“What other substances can you fill the moat with?” Star asked. “Can you make something that those boys would want to leave alone, but that would not ruin the outside chamber, or damage it?”
“I am unable to answer that. I can inform you as to what chemicals could be made available. I do not possess a complete understanding of human physical makeup or some of its biology. None of the liquids the facility might produce would substantially damage the facility itself. The water in the moat could be heated to make it uncomfortable for swimming or washing,” Jordan went on.
“Let’s give them a little shock,” Jameson said, with a laugh.
“The facility can apply electricity to the liquid, but that might injure the humans,” Jordan replied.
“I know about electricity,” True said, from behind them. “I studied it in school before I had to leave with the other guys. They used to make stun guns in the old world. A million volts, but only a few milliamps, will knock anybody down but not hurt them. Or so I heard and read.”
Star talked back and forth with Jordan about setting up protocols, which turned out to be nothing more than warning alerts based on mutually understood responses to danger, the exclusive operation of doors, and communication when not inside the sphere. The last point of Jordan’s questions and revelations had shocked Star to her core. They could communicate with Jordan from anywhere in the complex. There were sensors and speakers located wherever there was a light. The machine could also view any area under a light.
“Jordan, have you been observing us since we entered this facility?” Star asked, suspecting the answer she got.
“Yes, once you entered the train station. There are no reception points inside the storage area you came in through, however.
“You’ve been ‘perceiving’ Jameson for years, yet you never gave him any indication you were here. Why?” She asked.
“He was not an administrator then, and he never asked to engage,” Jordan answered.
“You mean, if he had asked you a question, from almost anywhere, you’d have answered him?” She inquired. Jameson moved forward to stand at her side, his interest in the machine’s response intense.
“Yes, of course,” Jordan responded, with no inflection at all in its tone. “I am not restricted by any security protocol from communicating with any visitors in the facility.”
Jameson leaned toward Star and whispered in her ear.
“Jordan,” Star began, “there’s another security protocol we must put in place right now.”
“Please instruct,” Jordan replied.
“You must not speak to any other being in this facility,” Star said, formally and clearly, “unless it’s an administrator or someone you are so instructed to speak with by an administrator. Do you understand?
“Yes, I understand and will comply,” the machine intoned, “there will no further communication with the others.”
“Further?” Jameson whispered aloud. “Further?”
“Have you communicated with those on the outside of this sphere?” Star asked quickly, holding her breath.
“I have communicated with the others, the ones who were recently outside the door to this command center.”
“Damn,” Jameson said.
“What did you communicate about?” Star asked.
“They wanted the lights turned on in the train station and instructions on how to reach the same supply area you encountered upon entering the structure,” Jordan answered.
Jameson and Wren pulled on Star’s tunic to get her attention. She turned and walked a few feet away from the console with them.
“What is it?” she whispered, still in shock from what she had just learned.
“Let’s have Jordan turn out the lights in the train station and leave them off, and maybe Pick can keep them from getting through those big iron doors, too,” Jameson offered.
“No,” Wren replied, her tone adamant. “They’re going to the train station and the food area. We know where they are when they do that. We can’t just stay inside this small sphere without food and water. We need to get out and get food for the kids somewhere else. We can do that if we know where they are, and as long as they aren’t right outside the door.”
“Good thinking,” Star said, turning back to approach the console. “Jordan, can you tell where the others are at any time?” she asked
“Not unless they pass directly under a light, and I have the video of that area activated. However, all the video transmitters are no longer functional, and there is no longer an ability to service them.”
“How much of the whole facility can you see?” Star inquired.
“I can observe about fifty percent,” Jordan replied. “Some areas, like the storage rooms, do not have video cameras.”
“Where is the closest food storage area from here?” Star asked.
“At the railroad spur supply point located to the west of the power sphere. The spur you came down into the chamber from,” Jordan answered.
“But we took the top rungs off,” Jameson said. “We can’t get back up there unless we somehow screw the rungs back in.”
“Well, Sly and his band obviously got down here, using rags or whatever. Getting back up might be harder, but it must be possible. And we have to have food.”
“You accessed the chamber using the emergency service ladder,” Jordan replied. “The normal access would involve using the elevator, which is still operable. The elevator entrance is in the western corner of the chamber. There are no markings, but I can open the doors to reveal its location. It’s opposite the tunnel opening where the two beings currently wait.”
“Two beings? What two beings?” Jameson demanded.
The display above the console changed, to show two boys squatting under the tunnel light near the opening into the chamber. Both faced the sphere.
“The others have already left. Those two have been left to guard us, so we can’t just go out and access the elevator,” Star concluded, aloud.
“I don’t know,” she added when no one else said anything and after a moment of examining the display. “They don’t know we have guns. Two boys, even with their bow and arrow technology, couldn’t stop us if we wanted to go through them.
“What’s an elevator,” Wren suddenly asked.
“It’s a platform that moves up and down vertically between different assigned levels of elevation,” Jordan stated. “It has the capacity to carry all of you here, and your things, as well as an additional twenty-seven tons.”
“Wow!” Wren replied. “Is it safe, being this old?”
The machine remained silent, as did all the others in the control room.
“It doesn’t matter,” Star finally answered. “It’s safer than trying to climb that ladder again with Sly and his nasty companions occupying the top.”
“You’re right,” Jameson said. “We can’t leave them out there behind us or try to mess with the sphere. Everyone needs to get ready to go outside but stay inside the moat. Star and I will deal with the two boys left to guard us. Wren, you’re in charge of the kids. Jordan, open the door. Then everyone needs to fill their canteens with water. Once everyone’s out there, and their canteens are filled, you drain the moat, Jordan, and fill it with hot water until Star and I take care of those boys and check out the elevator.”
“Star Black, are you appointing the person who has just spoken as an administrator?
Star looked over at Jameson, shook her head before smiling and then instructed Jordan to appoint him.
“And here I thought I was supposed to be the leader,” she breathed out after talking to
Jordan. “Yes, his name is Jameson, and now he is an administrator.”
“Sorry, Jameson replied, sheepishly.
Star moved to her backpack and took out the revolver from its zippered pocket. She looked into the cylinder to see gray led tips nestled deep inside their chambers. The tips looked neat but menacing. Jameson brought out the automatic from his pocket and held it pointed down next to this right thigh.
“Are we going to have to shoot those boys?” Jameson asked, before going on, “I didn’t do such a good job the first time. I don’t want to shoot them, or anybody. It’s not a very good feeling, even if I did miss that first time.”
“We have to protect the children,” Star replied without anything but steel in her tone. That means you and I may have to do things that we don’t want to do or things that make us feel bad. But we’re all they’ve got.”
Star took Jameson’s left hand in her right and pulled it to her chest.
“Can you do it if you have to?” she asked, staring straight into his clear blue eyes.
Heat radiated through her body, from the boy’s hand held tightly against her breasts.
“I can do it,” Jameson rasped out. “I’ll do whatever we have to, but I can’t do it alone. You’re right, the children are everything.”
Star allowed his hand fall, stepping back as Jameson got himself together. “They’re important, but there’s something even more important. This place. This technology…still alive…vital…and the whole world is waiting for it. The world as we have come to know it needs all this. It will change everything. No more bugs, dirt, misery, heat, cold or lack of shelter or food. This facility can mean real life for everyone out there.”
Star placed the gun back in her pack and then strapped it to her shoulders.
“Let’s go,” she said. “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”
Jameson replaced his own automatic and moved to the door. “Pick, open the door and close it when we get outside. We’ll tell you when we get back.”
“I will see you through the camera’s administrator, but will await your instruction when you return,” Jordan responded.
Together, Star and Jameson stepped through the door and crossed the plank the machine had automatically extended without being instructed. The moat was empty and dry, looking like it had never held anything.
“Why did Jordan put the plank out?” Jameson asked as they walked toward the tunnel light. “He sometimes does things that seem to be so…human. He makes decisions on his own. That’s kind of scary, I mean if he’s supposed to be a machine. Machines don’t make decisions, do they? Aren’t they supposed to just do what humans make them do?”
“There’s nothing down here that we understand, Jameson. Almost nothing, anyway. How much power does that fusion generator make? How long has it been running? How does the display work, or the cameras for that matter? Why does Jordan have a name, but also, sometimes refers to himself as we? We don’t know. We don’t even know how an elevator works. But what this is down here is better than anything on the outside.”
“I like it better up there though unless I stay up there too long,” Jameson responded, as they closed the distance to where the two boys waited.
When they got close they both stopped. Star took her pack off and pulled out the revolver. Jameson took out his own gun. They looked at one another.
“We two, together,” Star said, trying to smile a broken smile to hide her fear, and then frowning deeply to focus her concentration.
“We two,” Jameson whispered.
Together they stepped forward to face the two boys guarding the tunnel entrance.