ISLAND IN THE SAND
Book 2 Part III
Star Black stood in shock. Ninety-One’s voice but not Ninety-One, instead of some entity, another entity, that she had just been introduced to by no one at all. Star thought for a moment before commenting, knowing her comment was going to be viewed as dumb, or completely out of order for the situation.
“Are you really Ninety-One, as your voice would indicate, or are you another entity in this place?” she asked, having no idea how the robot would respond, but fearing whatever it might say.
“I am whatever you need me to be,” Ninety-One replied, his voice coming from the entire area around her.
“What do I need?” Star asked, her frustration causing her to feel fatigue and disappointment rather than anger.
“You know the answer to that, but you will not accept it,” the robot’s voice said. “Maybe I am to you what you need me to be. Acceptance.”
“Are you there in the woods with Wren, Jameson and the rest, or are you here with me in this place?” Star asked, still not believing that the damaged robot, that had been so true and helped so much, could possibly be connected to the feminine sounding entity she’d encountered.
“I’m there and I’m here,” Ninety-One responded, after a slight delay.
“Belief,” Star whispered. “You’re saying that you are what and where I believe you to be.”
“Not exactly, but that’s close enough. I presume you would rather converse using this voice?”
“What is this 'singularity'?” Star asked, changing the subject, not answering the question, and no longer bothering to hide her disappointment.
“The singularity is a connection,” Ninety-One said, also ignoring the question it had asked.
“A connection to what?”
“Not to what, although that might involve quite an interesting discussion in both of our physics to arrive at, but to where,” Ninety-One answered.
“Where?” Star asked, more to herself than to the robot. “Where am I, really?”
There was no verbal answer. There didn’t need to be. The giant construct of earth slowly revolving suddenly accelerated, twisted and then bulged out to show what Star knew to be the North American Continent. The bulge came so far out that Star flinched back, but there was no place to go. The bulge was reabsorbed by the giant earth, but then everything changed. Star seemed to zoom inside the giant edifice, although she knew she hadn’t moved an inch. The scenery then zoomed down, as if she was falling inward from on high. The sight was similar to what she’d believed she’d witnessed while orbiting the earth in the transport. The world came zooming at her. What felt like a long fall took her down toward a forest, then inside the forest and down into a valley. Star recognized the footbridge as the outside scene seemed to turn for a very brief instant until it was of herself, facing herself across the room. Star moved her right arm, hesitantly. The much bigger Star presented in the round edifice moved identically.
“My God,” breathed Star. “All that to show me that I’m right here where I am.”
“Not exactly,” Ninety-One replied. “You are here on this point of earth traveling at approximately ten percent of the speed of causality, or light if you prefer, compared to the measured still point or place in the multiverse deemed to be unmoving.”
“What’s the difference?” Star said, one eyebrow going up, marginally.
‘Where you are exactly in the multiverse is vital to being able to connect to 'placement'.”
“Placement,” Star replied, tiredly. “We are back to that place thing, instead of time.”
“Yes, that is true,” Ninety-One said. “By knowing where you are exactly you can use the singularity to go to other places prohibited by the normal rules of what you know as time and space.”
“I don’t really understand,” Star said, her shoulders slumping a bit.
“All space travel is a form of time travel, the way you understand it,” Ninety-One explained. “But that form of expression is not truly accurate. The Distants, for example, are not at another place in time, they are another place in place. Time and space travel are not relative, again as you understand them to be, they are instead what you can know them to be.”
“That makes no sense,” Star whispered, wanting to hold her head in both hands but making no actual move at all.
“We can visit the Distants using this singularity?” she finally asked, not wanting to talk about the process of physics anymore.
“Yes, or anywhere else you might know a place to be,” Ninety-One replied.
“I have to get back,” Star suddenly blurted out. “Sly is still out there with his band and whatever these…you, entities are, that matter is not settled. I don’t know whether you are my Ninety-One or not. I don’t know what this female-sounding entity is. I don’t know where the Distants are, or much of anything else, except I am right where I am, and that’s pretty much proved.”
“I’ve got to talk to Wren and Jameson, and even maybe True,” Star said, turning back toward the closed vault door. “We aren’t going anywhere unless we’re okay out there in the forest.”
“The transport is waiting at the entrance to the footbridge,” Ninety-One replied. “It will return you in seconds to your destination and stand by you through this time of difficulty. As will I. Please use the transport to return to me. Your leadership is needed.”
“I thought you were here,” Star said, trying not to lose herself again in explanations of physics she knew she wasn’t accommodating well.
“I am where you need me to be.”
“Damn it,” Star cursed. “Stop saying that. Are you back there with the kids taking care of things, or not?”
There was only silence in the space Star was in. The huge earth returned to be as it was when she’d approached. The great colored appearance of the rotating planet was so beautiful that it seemed to draw her toward it. Star fought the feeling. Suddenly the great vault door began to click like it had before she’d come through the other way. Star waited, staring at the massive metal thing. The door opened slightly.
Star ran to it. Pushing with all her strength the door began to open far enough for her to get through the opening. She stopped and turned to look at the rotating representation of the planet one more time.
“Is he back there, waiting for me?” Star asked, hoping the entity occupying the space understood her.
“Yes, he is,” the feminine voice answered.
Star squeezed through the gap and raced toward the curving metal ladder. The ladder had seemed frightening to come down, but moving fast and very purposefully, Star didn’t even notice the open view extending far down into the valley below. She ran up the ladder, exited the open end of the footbridge and stopped only when she reached the side of the transport. The rear-mounted sliding blade door opened with its usual efficient silent flare, the transport itself floating in mid-air as it had done before.
“I don’t think the ancients had anti-gravity,” Star mused to herself, climbing up into the body of the transport. “Maybe, just maybe, all this is real.”
The opening closed behind her but she didn’t even hear it. Jameson was standing in the middle of the craft looking back at her, his rifle at the ready across his torso, and looking totally out of place aboard the advanced technology of the transport all around him.
“Thank God,” Star said, rushing at the boy. She embraced him so tightly that she knew he was having trouble breathing and was working to try to adjust the rifle between them.
“What are you doing here,” Star exclaimed, stepping back a pace, but still holding the boy by both shoulders. “What about the kids?”
“Trade-off,” Jameson replied, getting himself straightened out. “We’re not going to make it without you and you weren’t exactly clear about where you were going. Ninety-One told us you were ready to come back so I got aboard in case you needed help. Ninety-One wouldn’t tell us how you were, although it sure seemed like he somehow knew. What happened to your rifle?”
Star hesitated, feeling remorse and remembrance. The rifle was laying against the side of the vault door where she’d put it down in order to push the huge heavy thing open. She had no rifle.
“Demos take us back to where the band is in the forest,” Star suddenly ordered, having forgotten, upon seeing Jameson, that she needed to get back as fast as possible to the band.
“The arrival back at the forest location was accomplished two-point-seven- three minutes ago, Demos replied. “You are already there.”
“Open the hatch,” Star ordered, running to the back of the transport where outside light was already beginning to sliver through the opening.
Star skipped three steps down to the pine needle floor of the forest, happy to have made it back to her band in one piece. Wren waited next to Ninety-One, facing her, with Val, Theo, and True nearby. Tal and Sol celebrated her return by running past everyone and grabbing her lower legs. Star had to laugh out loud at the display, but her eyes were on the robot.
“Well?” was all she said, standing before it.
“Not good news,” Ninety-One reported.
“What the hell?” Star hissed out. “I thought Sly and his band were down, put there by the transport. What happened?”
“That part’s true,” the robot reported. “The threat that’s not good news does not come from them. There are three larger forces moving in this direction from the coastal regions. They are crossing into the forest area now and are only hours away.”
“The coastal regions?” Star breathed out. The coastal regions. The part of the country she and the children had escaped from when their orphanage had been destroyed. How could those areas be sending forces toward where the band now was, and why?
“Runners,” True said, stepping to Star’s side. “Sly sent runners back to report so we’d always have a place to go back to if we wanted.”
The technology of the ancients was so verboten to the post-apocalypse coastal cultures that even handling any of it was punishable by death, Star remembered. What interest could they possibly have in what Star and her band had found?
“They would appear to be well trained in movement and must be assumed to be dangerous to you and our band, Star Black, and they seem to have a good number of larger biological units with them,” the robot said.lk
“What in the hell is a larger biological unit?” Jameson asked.
“I think he’s talking about horses,” True replied, from just behind him.
“The transport could be sent out to examine them as they make their approach,” Ninety-One interjected.
“No,” Star said, vehemently. “As far as we know, the transport is about the only really safe place for the kids. The dwelling might be that way, but then there’s the problem of the dwelling entity, and we don’t want them seeing the transport.”
“What about reprogramming?” Ninety-One said.
“Reprogramming what?” Star asked.
“The dwelling entity could be reprogrammed,” the robot replied. “There is no greater power, conferred by the Distants, than that held by the singularity. We might do well to request a reprogramming of the dwelling entity. The transport could be set off at a distance for defense, while the dwelling would act as a home for the band with all the services necessary for comfort and survival inside. The transport does not have those services.”
“Am I talking to Ninety-One or the singularity entity here?” Star asked.
“Time,” Ninety-One replied. “There is the issue of time. The forces approaching are in the forest and moving fast toward this position.”
“Funny, I thought you were going to say your favorite word again,” Star scoffed, with fear running up and down her spine. “Belief,” she added, wondering if the robot needed that revelation to understand.
“We might board the transport and have this discussion at a different location,” Ninety-One replied, turning its tracks and beginning to move slowly towards the aft section of the transport.
“Let’s go get your rifle, and then figure this out,” Jameson said, watching the service robot head toward the transport. “The dwelling’s nearby to where you left it. There’s no way whoever’s coming will get that far as fast as we can. Besides, we’ve got the rifles. I don’t care how many men they bring, if they’re not well armed then they’re screwed.”
“How many humans are coming?” Star yelled after the robot.
“Approximately two-thousand-four-hundred,” Ninety-One replied, its voice almost too soft to be heard.
“Did he say two thousand?” Jameson said, in shock, his voice tinged with a note of fear. “On horses?”