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Chapter 27

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What are you doing, Ger?! Isla was inside the loading dock area inside the battered Beetle 'bot she had maneuvered fighting Oleg. Her HUD now ran an ominous message at the 'bottom of her interface she had never seen before.

<OFFLINE. HOST ACCESS LOST>

Something must have happened back in the cell. Isla tried accessing the route back to her physical consciousness finding her pathway terminated at the Beetle 'bot operating system. I can’t go back. Ger must know what he’s doing. I hope he’s okay. Accessing the HUD of the robot she was in, Isla cycled through the operating protocols looking for a link pathway allowing her an opportunity to interface with the main satellite computers. Buried deep in the OS, she located a neural pathway conduit allowing for systems upgrading. I can port out this way, I think and from their access the main computer. They’ve got to have the Containment links here - and my Mom.

Isla steeled herself as she surveyed the cool lines of text and pictograms in front of her. If I can’t go back, I can only go forward. I can do this. She activated the pathway to the main computer, toggling the access switch and then —

 

Nothing. Cold grey all around. No code. No text. No icons or OS info anywhere.

Isla’s heart hammered. How can I feel this even though I’m lost inside this machine? Relax. Just relax. It’s booting up. You’ll be fine. Just breathe.

 

A blinding burst of light revealed a metropolis of pathways and operating options. Isla’s mind reeled at the immensity of the megalopolis of material. She was deep inside the actual OS for the satellite. Like Megacity One — only in computer form. Whoah… What I need is a search engine or something to figure this place out.No sooner had Isla thought of a search engine, a small window appeared in front of her.

‘Show me Major Anderson,’ Isla mouthed. This is crazy.

A window opened up in her viewport showing a security camera inside the cockpit of the satellite bound rocket. Her fake father and Oleg were seated in the lounge area outside the storage area she and Ger had been held captive. both men were deep in conversation.

‘…it doesn’t matter,’ Anderson said as he spoke with Oleg. ‘She won’t know what to do in there. We’’ll ferret her out once we arrive.’

‘Stupid 'bot,’ rumbled Oleg. ‘Should have realized that they’d lifted the Hieronymus unit.’

‘Like I said, it doesn’t matter right now. We have both of them now.’

They’re talking about me. They know I’m inside. But they can’t find me. Even though her body was thousands - or millions - of miles away, she felt her eyebrows rise. That’s why he had my use the 3rd level port to the beetle. My footprint is hidden by the robot’s IP address. The main OS reads its presence — not mine. Sneaky, Ger.  She tried to leverage her options for viewing the storage area where Ger was but there were no cameras inside his lock up. She had to trust that he was still okay. And that she had a job to do. Find the Containment centre where her Mom and who knows how many other souls had been stashed. I got this. I got this.

She thought-typed in her mother’s name - Marta ANDERSON - and a command protocol opened showing her name listed admist a lengthy list of names, dates and read-outs. Isla had found her — and the Containment area - but had no idea how to access it or move her out of the digital ice-box and back into her own consciousness. As she scrolled through the list of names, her heart beating somewhere in excitement, she stopped on another name that caused her to freeze the scrolling text.

<Jericho>

He’s alive?

My heart hurts, my body hurts, everything hurts. Sucks to be me. Isla 2.0 dragged Ger through the corridor of the moon satellite behind Oleg and Major Anderson. Worker 'bots dipped discretely out of the way as they moved directly to the base station Hieronymus machines. Well, it won’t hurt for too long. Inside the main room, Oleg strapped the real Isla into one of the computer terminals as Isla 2.0 slammed Ger into his seat. ‘Stay,’ she rumbled, as she secured armrest straps around his arms.

Across from him, Anderson fired up the main terminal accessing the OS for both units.

‘Why?’ Ger asked as Anderson typed in his ID and started up the assimilation protocol. ‘Why would you go through all of this to trash us now. I thought you needed us?’ Keep him talking. The longer we talk, the less likely he is to fry my brain. If Isla keys into this,  she may be able to help once he sets up the hyperlink.

Anderson sighed, turning to Ger. ‘You had such promise. both of you. And this is all on you now — had you stayed with the program.’

‘Little vague,’ snarked Ger. More details please. Oleg stumped off to the computer next to Anderson and began typing command codes into his machine. ‘Initiating primary link,’ he growled.

‘You and Isla did what I wanted — you got me to Jericho and we apprehended him. He’s in Confinement now. Really? Jericho’s alive??? ‘And that’s where he’ll stay until we repurpose him. He had done a lot of damage — or tried to — especially once he had the materials needed to reveal what we’re doing. You plugged that gap. I suppose we should thank you for that.’

Anderson withdrew Ger’s and Isla’s Hieronymus links and glasses from his jacket pockets. ‘These units are expensive and sensitive. And once you were in the program, the real question was how effective you might have been adding other possible operatives to the mix. Did you know, you and Isla are quite well respected in some circles? They aren’t ones that we would have ever considered — but you wielded considerable influence.’

‘I’m just a guy,’ Ger murmured as he tried to figure out Anderson’s logic here. ‘I don’t do anything special.’

Anderson leaned forward smiling, ‘But you do — or should I say, did. You and Isla both held the leaderboard positions on BERSERKER and that’s not without considerable influence. Had you proven to be trustable operatives, we would have had you scout and report on possible candidates for assimilation into the Hieronymus project. We need more sparks for our 'bots and you would have been able to provide and procure suitable candidates for our organization.’

Ger paled. ‘I never would have mined kids so you could turn them into slaves. Neither would Isla.’

Anderson nodded. ‘I understand that now. The pair of you proved to be too — idealistic, necessitating the upgrade model like Isla 2.0 here. She’ll do everything I ask — just like Ger 2.0. You’ll look the same to everyone in the world or online — but you’ll both be totally under our control. Once you’ve been wiped, you won’t be able to do anything but that.’

Ger watched as Isla 2.0 advanced on him with the cybernetic helmet that completed the Hieronymus link. She pulled it roughly onto his head as Anderson turned back to his master control.

‘So, the next time we meet Ger, it will be a clean slate. You won’t be able to do anything but comply. Goodbye. See you soon.’

On Ger’s HUD, an ominous cursor loomed in red neon. Trying to control his breath, he gulped as the command code flashed onscreen. Isla, if your out there, a little help?

<COMMENCING TRANSFER>

Go big or go home. BRTSHNGSTR taught me that. LET’S PLAY. The Beetle 'bot weighed in at over 800 pounds and smashed through the command room door like paper. Isla targeted Ger strapped in the Hieronymus chair as she unrolled from her mobile transport mode, swinging her arms at Isla 2.0 and Oleg. Both of them caught the brunt of her fury as they smashed into the walls propelled by her metal fists.

‘Ger! I’m here,’ Isla yelled through the Beetle’s headset speaker as she activated the laser tagging option of her 'bot. She swung the emerald green scanner directly into the eyes of Anderson who sat transfixed at his console. Blinded by the bright light, he fell to the floor, clutching his eyes in pain. She stumped over to Ger, releasing her knife-edged mandible, slicing through his restraints. ‘Hurry, ‘ she screamed as she rotated 180 degrees to face Oleg, rising up from the ground. Ger raced to the the master console, grasping their Hieronymus comm links and glasses as Oleg rushed him. Isla extended her metal arm, stopping him in his tracks with a blow to the belly. Oleg folded in a rush of Russian curses.

‘Behind you,’ Ger yelled as he jumped over the fallen Russian, scooping up the links.

Isla felt the back of her beetle 'bot pulled down as Isla 2.0 clambered upwards on her spine. Great!

A tear across the robot’s face revealed the shiny inner faceplate of the furious clone. Her fingers smashed into the metal finger-holds trying to gain leverage as she climbed ever higher. Get off me!! Isla swung the beetle 'bot body in three rapid-fire full rotations, spinning on her axis at great speed. Throwing her 2.0 clone off her back and into Oleg who had staggered to his feet. The pair collided, crashing into the main computer console and fell on top of Major Anderson.

‘Get your body,’ Ger yelled as he called up the satellite’s map on his comm link.

Isla hustled to her prone physical body, snipping the restraints and flung herself up onto the beetle’s shoulders. Ger, now wearing his glasses, waved to Isla, pointing out in the hallway.

‘This way!’ he yelled as he raced off.

Isla stamped after Ger, glancing at their fallen captors. PWND!

 

‘How are we gonna get off this thing?’ Isla asked, stretching her arms above her head, slipping back into her physical form felt — limiting after the freedom of using the Beetle 'bot.

Ger closed the door to the utility closet they had hidden in after abandoning her metal exoskeleton.

‘I don’t think we are,’ Ger murmured as he moved to Isla, sliding down to the floor.

Isla slid down next to him. Outside in the corridor, the bleat of an alarm siren echoed through the metal space station as the sound of 'bots and sweepers outside moved through the satellite. The dull clank of 'bot feet sounded dully through the door.

‘What are you talking about,’ Isla asked. We gotta get out of here. I wanna go home.

You told me you found the Containment link, right?’ Ger asked. ‘And how you tracked me once I landed to the Hieronymus room? We got this.

Isla nodded. ‘That’s right, my Mom - Jericho - there’s a shizz-ton of people stashed there all waiting. For something. There’s gotta be hundreds of people there.’

Ger nodded. ‘I gotta plan. I think it will buy us enough time to screw over Anderson big time as we rat him out to the press worldwide. We can’t trust the authorities - but we can trust that if we release all the files and footage we got from Jericho, we can’t be touched.’

Isla shook her head. I don’t know. Will that be enough?

‘And then we release everyone from Containment and kick all their asses IRL.’

Okay. That’ll do it.

‘Once we do this, we can’t go back. Are you okay with this?’

Ger looked deeply into Isla’s eyes. You mean so much to me. I would do anything for you. I need you to trust me.  Isla nodded, her eyes darting to her own commlink as she and Ger held hands.

‘I trust you, Ger. It’s the right thing to do.’

Ger nodded at Isla, plugging his commlink to Isla’s — combining their Hieronymus machines as one. ‘Once I run the code, they won’t be able to bring us back. Even if they shut down our machines — or smash them. We’ll be in the aether. And once we’re there, I know I’ll be able to find a way back.’

Isla squeezed Ger’s hand. ‘It’s the right thing to do, Ger. I have to go get my Mom and we gotta share with the world what’s gone on here.’ Isla smiled brightly at Ger, shrugging off her anxiety. ‘Anyway, there’s no way they’re gonna find us. You’ve got these mad skills — we’ll get in, get out and then go home — somehow.’

Ger gulped. Or we get discovered and they flat out kill us to stop what we’re going to do.

‘Exactly,’ Ger replied, busying himself in their uplink so Isla couldn’t see the worry in his eyes. I got this. I got this. I got this.

Barricaded in the storeroom, they had spent precious minutes buring deep behind the storage containers finding a place to be comfortable. Once uploaded into the aether, their physical bodies would remain here while their conciousnesses would explore the Levels needed to open the Containment portal. And maybe Jericho’s there too? He’s got mag skills that can only add. If I can bust him out.

Ready?’ Ger gulped, as he finished the final command code needed to leap them into the satelitte’s mainframe.

‘Hey, Ho — Let’s Go,’ whispered Isla as she lay back on the floor.

Ger slid down next to her, his hand still clutching hers and they ported up, running the flak code needed in their Hironymus machines to keep them tehered to the aether.

 

<BOOTING>

Ger opened his eyes to the cascading omnibus of text and schematics streaming about him. Ghost white in appearance, Isla’s digital avatar stood beside him as they became ghosts in the machine - digital beings of consciousness.

‘Whoah,’ Isla gasped as she looked at her near-transparent skin. ‘This is trippy.’

In a flash, both of their bodies solidified — appearing real to each other.

Ger nodded, ‘I wanted to make sure we had some sort of physical body we could see as our shell. Without a visual, we could find ourselves slowly losing touch with our own — humanness in this thing.’

‘Is that a real word?’ Isla asked. ‘Humanness?’

‘I think it is now, Isla. We’re deep in the wormhole now — and we need every little bit of help we can get.’

Ger air-typed a sequence of programming code relying mostly on memory to complete the task. ‘I’m going to give us both a HUD so we can eye-track and input our movements and geo-jumps. That way we can be sure we’re going to the same place and seeing the same stuff at the same time. Blink for me, will you?’

Isla blinked, as Ger did too,. In front of Ger, a heads-up display now ringed his vision as he looked about the cavernous space. A smaller insert window was docked in his lower left field of vision. ‘I can see your code input window in my HUD.’

Ger typed quickly in the air — this time seeing a full QWERTY keyboard at the lower portion of his eye. ‘And I can text you here as well.’

He clicked the SEND button icon using his eye to track the button displayed at the top of his HUD. ‘I just sent you something.’

Ger watched as Isla reviewed his message.

‘You wanna be my boyfriend?’ Isla laughed as she read his message.

Ger nodded. Now, this is really scary.

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