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Chapter 30

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‘Okay everyone, listen up. Here’s the deal!’

Isla floated above the massed people all crowding the Containment room. All eyes were on her as she tried to find the best way to start. Her stomach rolled, sweat beading on her forehead. Go time, Isla. 

‘All of you were kidnapped and transported here by a man masquerading as Major David Anderson — my father. Your consciousness was uploaded to this Containment center while a foreign computer intelligence has taken over your biological body. You’ve all been brain-jacked.’

Isla waited for the reaction. Angry shouts, questions and tears poured from the assembled group as Isla held up her hands, trying to placate the scared crowd. They’re freaked out. I would be too.

‘Right now, there’s no safe way to return you to your original organic bodies without a direct neural interface — which we don’t have here. The technology used by the man pretending to be my father is unique — and hidden.’

‘Well, go get it,’ called out an angry woman from the crowd directly below Isla. She’d clearly been crying and her face was blotchy with tears. Easier said than done.

‘All of you will be returned to your natural state once we figure out the best — and safest — way to get you back. But we’ve got a bigger problem.’ Isla said.

‘What could possibly be worse than this?’ cried out a heavyset man glaring at Isla. ‘Where’s your Father? I demand to speak to him. Did you kids have anything to do with this?’

More angry murmurs started to sound from the crowd as the mostly grown-up crowd pushed towards the front area where Ger stood next to Jericho. He was right. This is not going to be easy. From her position in the air, Isla could see the neon-blue transparent dome that popped up in place around Ger and Jericho, protecting them from the angry adults who were held back by the force field.

‘What is this?’ cried an elderly woman dressed in a scientist’s lab coat. She was pounding on the force field, unable to move any closer to the front of the line where Ger and Jericho were.

‘If everyone will just calm down,’ Isla explained. ‘We anticipated your anxiety and we set up a chill-out screen so we could explain to you. But we’re running out of time.’

‘I want out of here!’ Marta cried from the middle of the group. ‘Do something, Isla.’

Hundreds of voices rose in an ugly roar as Isla surveyed the crowd. She slipped on her Hieronymus glasses, checking the statistics Ger was live feeding her in her HUD. The integrity of the Containment unit was under attack by a host of computer viruses designed to break down the safeguards both Ger and Jericho had set up.

‘We don’t have time for this, people. We have to get out of here, NOW and I just wanted to try and explain what we were doing before it was too late. We have literally minutes before all of this is going to hard-wiped from the system. Along with all of us. Anderson is conducting a massive purge of this system in order to eradicate the evidence. That means you — and us.’

Below, Isla pandemonium broke out as the crowd pushed forward, trampling over one another in the digital domain. Thankfully no physical injury was possible in this form — but hundreds of people piled on top of each other all intent on breaking through the digital screen keeping Ger and Jericho from the furious crowd.

‘WILL YOU GUYS ALL CHILLAX!’ Isla screamed, trying to get the angry mob under control. ‘Do something, Jericho!’

Ger nodded at Jericho who shrugged as they both started typing wildly, their eyes transfixed on their screens and the countdown clock.

<TRANSFER ENGAGED> beeped on Isla’s Hieronymus HUD as the multitudes winked out of existence all around her. Frak. I wanted them to know what we were gonna do.

She dropped to the Containment floor her shoulders saggeing in defeat.Ger called out from the workstation he and Jericho stood by.

‘I hope they’re going to like BERSERKER?’

Basically, we stick them in an environment that Anderson would never think to look in as we rip off his neural link to Hironymus. Once we have that we can jettison the AI in the hosts and return everyone to their rightful bodies.

Worth a shot,’ said Jericho as he watched the stats on the monitor in front of him. ‘We can’t send them back until we know what’s going to come here in it’s place. And this party is about to get shut down by Anderson. We gotta do something. The only question is — whose gonna tell them?

Ger looked at Isla and smiled. ‘Hey theater girl. You wanna tell them that they’re going to be hanging out in the best MMORPG there is?’

BERSERKER?’ Isla winced. ‘We’re gonna send them to an online game?’

‘Sure,’ said Ger. ‘Why not? Anderson wouldn’t know what that is — and we can make them all NPC’s on the fringe of the game. No interaction with any main play. They can hide out as villagers and tavern owners and farmers. It would kinda be cool.’

Isla shook her head. ‘You want me to tell these grownups that they’re basically gonna be ported to a video game for their own safety while a buncha kids are gonna save the day?’

Jericho and Ger nodded, ‘Sweet,’ they said in unison.

‘However,’ Ger said. ‘I’m just gonna set up a perimeter in case things go wrong, okay?’

‘Sure, what could go wrong,’ Isla sighed. ‘How much time do we have for me to prepare?’

Jericho glanced at his computer, his face saying it all. ‘You should do this now.’

 

Ger smiled at Isla as she stomped over to him. ‘You almost did it,’ he smiled as Isla scowled in return. He watched as she slid into the seat next to Jericho looking at his screen.

‘And you know exactly where everyone went? And who they are? And we can get them all back?’

Jericho nodded, tapping in a quick series of command codes, ‘And I’ve uploaded their coordinates to yours and Ger’s Hironymus rigs so you have backup.’

‘You gonna be okay in there,’ Ger asked. I still don’t trust him — but what choice do we have.

Jericho nodded, reaching up to shake Ger’s hand. ‘I’m gonna be a blacksmith, putting on horseshoes and walking around town. That’s gonna be cool. I’m gonna be fine.’

Ger shook Jericho’s hand, smiling at the diminutive teen. I’m like him now. I don’t have a host to go home to.

‘Can I ask you a question before you go?’

Jericho nodded.

‘I’m, kinda without a host myself right now — what are you gonna do if we fix all this?’ Ger asked.

‘When!’ Isla punced. ‘When we fix this, Ger. Be positive. We got this?’

Ger nodded at Isla, smiling at her. She’s always got my back. Jericho shrugged. ‘I got stuck in this sick body from the drop, and I can port myself out to a 'bot or just live online. That’s not a bad thing. I could skin-job someone…’

‘Gross,’ muttered Isla. LOL.

‘…acquire a host,’ Jericho smiled at Isla, ‘but, it’s not cool to do that without permission. I know that. Everything I did was to try and stop Anderson. It’s always been about that. It’s why I gave you all the specs of his operation and the tech.’

‘Or we can get Anderson to grow you new bodies off-world,’ Isla said as both Ger and Jericho looked at her as if she had two heads.

‘He can do that?’ both Ger and Jericho asked.

‘According to my junk-pile clone before I trashed her.’

<SYSTEM SHUTDOWN>

Crap. We spent too much time talking.

‘Isla, port out now to the coordinates I’m sending you —‘ Ger yelled as Jericho furiously typed his exit codes into his monitor.

‘Ger, I’m still at the loading dock, meet me there…’ Isla barked.

‘No wait,… We gotta…’

<SYSTEM SHUTDOWN COMPLETE>

Isla smashed her fist down inside the Beetle 'bot operator’s cabin. She tore off her Hieronymus glasses, tossing them onto the panel. Goddamnit. What am I going to do now?

She clambered out of the cabin, glancing down at the beheaded clone lying crumbled on the floor. Thick tendrils of ice-blue fluid pooled around the body, coating the floor in a sticky, metallic residue — which she promptly stepped into. The aqua viscous fluid splashed up on her Chuck’s, staining the pristine footwear. She sighed, tip-toeing her way out of the widening pool, scanning the facility for guards or 'bots.The entire loading dock was empty, save the headless torso. Where’s the head?Isla snapped her eyes from side to side, scanning for the missing 'bot component.

‘Looking for something,’ croaked an eerie electronic voice from atop the Beetle cab.

She spun to see the head of her clone, suspended upside-down from metallic spider-like appendages, razor-sharp mandibles clacking on the metal roof of the ‘Beetle. Isla slipped backwards, eyes wide at the nightmarish apparition.

‘Father built retrieval mechanisms in every 'bot to preserve the positronic brain.’ Isla 2.0 snarled. ‘Too expensive — to leave… on the field. Much… more important— to bring the hardware back.’

The clacking, stuttering cadence of the head screeched a banshee wail of computer generated code, deafening Isla who backed away from the monstrosity. Isla 2.0’s eyes slipped sideways in their sockets, pin-balling from side-to-side in a staccato rhythm in time with the coded cry. Okay, this is frakkin’ horrible. Rearing up on its hind legs, Isla 2.0’s head waved its forward legs in a flurry of butterfly knife attack patterns, weaving a deadly display of menace at Isla.

‘I…don’t…care what Father — wants… It’s time for you to die. Stupid analog sack!’

Isla ducked as her disembodied head leap from the roof of the 'bot, side-stepping the knife flurry aimed directly at her own face. Isla 2.0 landed in the icy blue pool of internal fluid still lapping from her former body, caterwauling into the nearby wall. She didn’t need to be told twice. Isla raced out of the loading dock into the adjoining corridor. Her feet pounded the corridor, a dull roar of echoes sounding as the needle-like tap-tapping of the spider head raced after her. This sucks. This sucks. This sucks. This sucks. This sucks. The corridor itself was mercifully clear of any personnel or android presence. She had learned from Anderson that the satellite was manned primarily by 'bots and all of them seemed to be settled into their own duties somewhere — not out here in the public area. Isla raced forward, pushing open the airlock door in front of her, sparing a moment to glance behind to see Isla 2.0’s upside down head racing towards her on the thin spider arms.

‘Resistance is futile!’ screamed the 'bot as it thundered forward. ‘Now, you die!’

She launched herself through the door, stumbling over the lip of the air-tight door in her frantic attempt to escape. Lock the door. Lock the door! Isla saved herself from plummeting over the edge of the railing on the other side of the door. Below her, a transport ship sat in dry-dock attached to refueling cables. Automated droids floated below her vantage point servicing the machine. All on auto-pilot. She slammed the door home as Isla 2.0 launched herself into the air, slamming into the bulkhead.

Isla spun the airlock wheel, sealing the solid-steel door into place in it’s frame. Holding onto the locking mechanism with both hands, she peered through the thick glass window inset on the door at Isla 2.0’s face now pressed tight against the view port. Even through the reinforced metal, she could hear the robot’s squeal of frustration.

Endless blinding light assailed Ger as he floated in the infinite of the mainframe. He found himself surrounded by an endless array of command codes and OS protocols as he drifted in the digital architecture. Ger reached out in front of himself, his arms and body an endless stream of light-colored atoms, assembling and reassembling in swirling, organic construct. I’m code. Or some kind of simulation of code. I’m part of the computer’s native intelligence. He pushed gently off through the abstract myriad of streaming data, twisting and turning through the swirls of cybernetic intelligence. I hope Isla got out in time before the Containment center collapsed. At least we got all those people out. Where am I? What am I?Ger still felt the dull ache between his ribs as he thought of Isla and how much she meant to him. And how his physical ‘death’ had deeply impacted him. I’m dead… but not really dead. I can still think, so I’m sort of alive. Right? He sighed, rolling over on his back, looking up into the neon-tinged everything. This was the essence of the machine and he was now truly part of the digital universe. I could just stay here forever. Why not? No more problems, no more Anderson, no more…anything.

Ger pushed further forward into the code, no longer needing the Hieronymus HUD to guide him in his journey. As a new digital being, all of the artifice of his original body had dropped away, allowing him free access to the hierarchies and intricacies of the world. But that also means no more Mom, no more Isla — I can’t do that to them. He willed his HUD into being, the familiar red-tinged display window opening up over his sight as he typed on the virtual keyboard.

<Find Isla>

In a nano-second, the response popped back to him.

<OFFLINE>

<Where is she? Provide last location>  Ger typed, as he tried to control his anxiety. She got out. She had to have gotten out.

<Primary Loading Dock. Sector Three>

Ger breathed a sigh of relief. At least she’s alive. But why is she offline? You’d think she’d want to at least check in? Let me know that she’s okay. He quick-typed a command line requesting transport to the loading dock, locating the dormant Beetle droid as a host for his digital self. <Execute>

Inside the OS of the 'bot, Ger turned on the primary system and brought the machine online. He scanned the area, noting immediately the smashed body of the 'bot clone. Eww.

Screeching, discordant computer tones spat from the adjacent corridor, drawing Ger’s attention. He lumbered into life, wobbling at the maneuverability of the heavy 'bot. Isla made this look easy. But there’s no way I’m getting through that door. Ahead of Ger, the corridor doorway was too small for the industrial drone to pass. He staggered up to the door, looking out at the source of the noise. Before him, the disembodied head of Isla 2.0 hung from its rapier-thin legs on the door to the airlock.  A bright green laser cutter sparking on one mandible, sparks streaming into the air as the apparition screamed in triumph. Already it had cut a sizable swath through the solid metal door, acrid smoke and scarred metal a testament to the machine’s progress. Ger stared at the port window, seeing Isla’s face in the porthole. Isla! He watched in horror as the Isla clone tried to open the airlock door, twisting the locking mechanism with its other clawed leg. Isla’s holding onto the other side. She’s the only thing keeping it out. I gotta do something.

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