ISLAND IN THE SAND

PART XXX

Star would have liked to do nothing but she couldn’t. The dwelling was seemingly impenetrable, except for the tiny openings created by the special weapon Sly and his band had been able to find and bring into action. That this was the second type of such great destructive devices, following the larger weapon that had almost been brought to bear against the underground control center, was increasing her anxiety. Sly had some sort of savant helping him if that young man still survived. His ability to rapidly uncover and use weaponry unknown to her own people worried her deeply. It was as if the theoretical aliens were attempting to equalize both bands and, they were going to let the winner of some strange final combat between them resolve the issue of what might happen to humanity’s survivors on the planet.

“Ninety-One, the dwelling thing here said that it was sending transmissions to somewhere else, but it wasn’t clear about where that somewhere else was. Do you know?”

“No entity is entitled to respond to that questions, Star Black administrator,” the house said, cutting into the conversation, even though Star’s question had been obviously directed toward the robot.

“The transmissions are directed toward a main repeating station located on one of the moons of Mars,” Ninety-One replied, ignoring the comment made by the house.

“The service robot is damaged and therefore cannot be depended upon to respond to your requests with complete rationality,” the house commented, interrupting again.

“That makes sense,” Star replied, ignoring the house. “Deimos, the transport, said that it was named after one of the moons of Mars,” she said to herself aloud.

“Where do the transmissions go?” Star asked.

“I don’t believe any entity on earth is in possession of that knowledge,” Ninety-One replied.

Star looked at the tracked robot with intensity, but there was nothing much to see. Ninety-One had indicated that it ‘believed’ in something, and that sounded nothing at all like what she’d heard so far coming from the other artificial intelligences. How could an artificial intelligence believe in anything?

“What is your opinion, Ninety-One?” Wren spoke out from behind Star’s right shoulder.

“My opinion is that the star location, from where this center is receiving and sending information, is called Alpha Centauri B,” Ninety-One said, after a few seconds of silence, as if it really was considering.

“It is four point-three light years from this solar system and about 530 million miles from its slowly rotating twin. The system has seventeen planets and it is likely that a major developed planet of that solar system is receiving data and providing some directions back to facilities still surviving on this planet.”

Star, Wren, and Jameson stared at the robot together, all three stunned by the admission, whether it was true or not. Star had not expected any opinion to be rendered, Wren hadn’t thought to wonder about a precise location in the heavens, and Jameson was simply befuddled by the even more likely fact that alien beings were involved with all of their lives.

“How far away is this Centauri planet?” Jameson asked, the wonder in the tone of his voice evident.

“4.3 light years, as I indicated,” the robot immediately replied.

“There’s the speed of light to consider,” Wren said, a foundation of doubt becoming evident in her tone. “Communication would be almost impossible, with the speed of light to consider.”

“I did not render an opinion about the time of data transfer,” Ninety-One stated, flatly. “There is no speed of light. There is only a relative speed of causality, of which light is a part, but that is variable in too many ways to make understandable here and now for the purposes of this discussion.”

“What do you recommend we do about Sly and his awful band of boys?” Star asked, trying to get back to matters of her own band’s survival, instead of discussing things that were hugely interesting but not directly beneficial to their continued existence.

“Tell us something an alien would want us to know,” Wren instructed.

“I did not render an opinion about the existence of an alien presence, either here or anywhere else,” Ninety-One replied.

“Your opinion!” Wren stated, leaning into the robot’s main body and nearly yelling the two words at it.

“Subjugate yourself,” Ninety-One replied, this time the voice coming from its speaker almost too subdued to hear, as it the robot didn’t want to say the words loud enough for the house or anyone else to hear.

Star listened to the exchange between Wren, the most brilliant child in her band, and the matter-of-fact robot, seemingly describing and responding in ways that could not be ignored or put off. The band’s direct survival was not at immediate risk, so Star waited to hear more, but both Wren and Jameson said nothing.

“How can that be?” Star finally asked into the silence.

They built this dwelling, left the transport, and assembled the whole underground energy facility and control center. The aliens left you to help us, and the others.”

“You are now rendering an opinion based upon faulty data,” Ninety-One replied.

“Faulty data, faulty data…” Star repeated, growing angrier and angrier at the supposedly damaged service robot. “That’s just your opinion against mine and I think the evidence and data are pretty clear.”

“What faulty data,” Wren asked, pressing Star’s left forearm with her small but strong right hand.

There was another silence as if the robot was thinking about what it might or might now say, or could or could not say.

“Your assumption of this remnant of advanced civilization is based upon its existence, not its attachment, and not the causal assumption of a reason that likely created it,” the robot said, before going quiet again, as if awaiting the next question.

“What kind of gibberish is that?” Jameson asked.

“What attachment?” Wren asked.

“The causal attachment that existed prior to the asteroid strike,” Ninety-One replied.

“I repeat,” Wren said, her voice flat and implacable, “What attachment?”

“Where did the asteroid strike?” the robot asked.

Nobody said anything since everyone knew that the asteroid had hit the planet in almost the very center of the Pacific Ocean. The two-mile-high supersonic ocean waves had gone over entire continents, and that had just begun the devastation of most life on earth.

“What attachment?” Wren continued, in the same tone and delivery as before.

“The center of alien presence was established and built at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean near its very center,” Ninety-One said.

“That information may not be transmitted to any human beings on this planet,” the house said. There was no tone interpretable to the house’s delivery, but the credibility revealed by the warning sent shock waves through Star, Wren, and Jameson.

“Oh my God,” Wren breathed out. “The asteroid scored a direct hit on the alien base located at the bottom of the Pacific, and this part of their work is all that survived. How could that be? How could such a thing have happened by accident?”

“It is not known whether there are more outpost stations located on this planet,” the house said.

“You said ‘subjugate yourself,” when you gave your opinion Ninety-One. What did you mean?” Star asked.

“This conversation is prohibited, even at the administrator level,” the house said.

“Did you not just make a statement about ‘more outpost stations’ located on this planet, dwelling?” Ninety-One asked, speaking directly to the house for the first time. “The transmissions of data are being sent out to a holistic body creating subjugated populations for unknown purposes, and that is my opinion. The apparent short distance between that body and this planet should have caused a re-contact of some sort, in light of the catastrophe, but there has been no associative physical contact of any sort, and that’s also my opinion, after long consideration.”

A deep thundering crash came vibrating through the walls and the floor of the dwelling, followed by an eerie few seconds of silence.

Star jerked herself out of the conversation, literally shaking her head and then backing away. The band had to be immediately protected. The artificial entities were set up to accommodate, and either passively accept or absorb. They were obviously not programmed to aggressively defend.

“Some sort of explosive device was pushed through the outer wall,” the house said. “Something must be done.”

“Ninety-One!” Wren yelled at the robot.

“Evacuate into the Demos transport but do not open the outer door,” Ninety-One responded. “One of you, or more, must open and then negotiate the tunnel over to the operations center. Jordon can open the main butterfly portal. The transport will carry the band, including myself, but neither the transport nor I can be depended upon to negotiate with Jordon to accomplish this task. You, Star Black Administrator, must do that. Upon departing the dwelling, the entity here can be commanded to defend itself against all human intrusion, attack or even existence.”

“I don’t like the sound of most of that,” Jameson murmured, “much less this subjugation thing. These aliens from this strange distant planet were here to subjugate the human race from under the ocean? The whole thing sounds fishy to me.”

“I wish we had time for this debate, Jameson, but we don’t,” Star spoke the words and, almost prophetically, there was another large explosion. “It’s only a matter of time until Sly breaks in here unless we can unleash this dwelling to defend itself. For some reason, it can’t do so with us present, yet it has to be ordered to do so without our presence.”

“Get everyone into the transport,” Star ordered.

“I’m going with you down to the portal no matter what you say,” Jameson said, lifting his rifle as if to make his point.

“Okay,” Star answered, feeling a warm glow in knowing that Jameson was trying to protect her.

“Wren,” you’ve got to lead the children and make sure they’re okay,” Star said, facing the young woman. “Listen to Ninety-One and take his advice, but don’t forget he’s a product of the aliens. If something happens to Jameson and me, then have Demos take you all far away from here to start again. The hull of the transport is supposed to be impenetrable but the dwelling was supposed to be the same way. There’s not a lot of truth going on here.”

“I am not a product,” Ninety-One said, but his treads were turning as he began shifting about to head for the opening through the wall into the garage where the transport sat waiting.

“House, how do we get down to where the operations center is located?” Star asked the house.

“The lift,” the house said. “You must push the button marked with the number four three times.”

“I thought the lift was inoperable,” Star said.

“Repairs have been completed and the human bodies have been removed.”

Star wanted to stop and think about what the house had just said, but there was no time. The survival of all of them was coming down to the results of a contest, either accidentally occurring, or because of some arcane master plan of aliens that were almost impossible to imagine or think about, much less consider capable of pulling strings from four light years away.

Star led Wren and Jameson toward the lift doors, wondering how aliens powerful enough to build bases at the bottom of the ocean, and the technologically advanced dwelling, transport, and energy center, could be so taken by surprise and nearly wiped out by a simple rock traveling through the solar system. It didn’t make sense. The lift doors opened. They stepped inside. Star glanced at the floor in passing, hoping not to see blood or worse, but the lift was as clean and sterile as it could be. She watched Ninety-One disappear through the door to the garage, as the lift closed them inside, and felt a pang of loss. The robot seemed like the best friend the band had acquired since their teachers were killed, except for Jameson.

“There times, hum?” Jameson said, pushing a button repeatedly. “Like Ali Baba and Forty Thieves. Ridiculous.”

The lift dropped and stopped so fast all three of them were nearly knocked from their feet. The doors did not open.

“House, open the doors,” Star said, wondering if the house could hear them inside the life. She hadn’t thought to ask.

The doors opened, silently, the still air was broken only by the house’s voice coming out of the speaker inside the lift.

“I have no communications inside the tunnel. I can reach the transport but not if it is inside the energy complex. I need instructions on how you want me to defend the dwelling against the attack by your friend Sly and his band of followers. I fear I must take terminal action, but you as the administrator must authorize and order that.”

They stepped out into the dimly lit corridor. The walls, ceiling, and floor were made of the clear and supposedly impenetrable metal. It wasn’t likely that Sly and his band would ever break into the tunnel unless their savant could think of how to fool the dwelling to allow it.

“House take aggressive physical action to protect yourself and the integrity of the structure” Star ordered. "Do what must be done without compunction with regard to the safety or damage to the humans attacking us, any more than you showed with the lift.”

Star stared at a huge vault door. A round multi-handled spinning device protruded from the center of the clear metal door. The clarity of the metal wasn’t that of glass because looking through it was more like looking through a frosted piece of shower glass. A small box was mounted under one edge of the big heavy-looking spinner. Star bent down and peered at the box. Finally, she took one hand and felt it to see if anything on the plain flat surface would respond. She jerked her hand away as the surface of the box moved. A small cover snapped upward, revealing a keypad of numbers and a speaker. Star wanted to ask the house why aliens if the creators of the structure were aliens, would not have used alien numbers instead of Arabic in protecting doors and other areas they obviously wanted others kept out of, but she thought better of it.

“What’s the code to get in?” Star asked over her shoulder instead, turning slightly toward where the lift doors still sat open a few meters away.

“Push the number four three times and state your name and position,” the house said. The door knows who you are. Then spin the dial three times in a clockwise direction. The door will open. Once you enter the tunnel the door will close. Your fate will be in your own hands following that act.”

Star followed the directions provided by the dwelling intelligence but she did so with great trepidation. She and Jameson would be cut off from all communication until they gained entry to the complex and then got inside. The rest of the band, including Ninety-One, would be holed up without communication abilities inside the transport. Meanwhile, Sly and his band were having a field day attempting to destroy the dwelling and quite possibly everyone in their own band.

Star stepped through the door, followed by Jameson.

“Take action against the forces attempting to enter and destroy the dwelling,” she ordered the house, wondering if her words would have any effect at all.

The heavy clear metal door closed with a solid finality. There was light inside the tunnel but it was dim and foreboding, like Star’s mood. She stepped forward into the high tech hallway with Jameson at her side but feeling totally alone.

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