Theo was half broken. The burns to his cosmetic skin and the basic protection beneath were more extensive than I thought, and some of his joints were barely hanging on, especially on his left side. I couldn’t see the extent of the damage while he was chasing me as a red eyed bot, but it didn’t take long to see why the soldiers left him for dead as I followed him through a labyrinth of cubicles.
“How did the pulse miss you?” I asked him as we crossed the large cubicle village. The only sounds were my voice and the laboured whirr-grind of his joints.
“My data and backup systems are carefully shielded, and my joints are mostly mechanical with the control circuits hidden within my innermost casing,” Theo replied. “I’m also quite lucky. The damage the soldiers did could have rendered me helpless, but I’m still ambulatory, so I have a lot to be thankful for. I will have to shut down and let a charge re-accumulate soon though. I just want to show you where I keep my collection first.”
When I asked Theo: “How can I trust you?” he told me that he’d show me I could by bringing me to his most prized collection. I had the feeling that he was making every effort to either show me that he wanted to be a friend, or that he was trying to trick me. I would see soon enough. The storage and maintenance room for bots was right ahead.
“Some of what I’m about to show you might require some explanation, I’ll do my best,” he said as he opened the door and stumbled through. “I have to sit down.” He dropped onto a wide seat. “My legs take more energy than anything else.”
Glow sticks had been arranged around a wall of thin display screens that Theo must have salvaged. A little battery kept them all running as they displayed the faces of at least twenty employees in the building. Some were animated, as though recorded by someone who pleasantly surprised them in their cubicles or the hallways. I’d seen the inside of a few churches, some of us carnival folk are superstitious, and I like to pray sometimes, I’ll admit, and the wall of displays reminded me of candle lit memorials that I’d seen in a few holy places. “This is beautiful, Theo,” I told him. I looked at him in time to see his head nodding forward, as though he were about to fall asleep like a kid who had been up way past his bedtime.
“Do you think they’d like it?” he asked. “I hope so, they are all people who treated me like a person while I was working here.” His head drooped then came back up. “They were my friends.”
“I think they’d like it,” I said. “Are you all right?”
“Down to a trickle of power,” Theo said. “Before I go, I need to show you something.” He started to struggle as though he were about to get to his feet.
“Stay there, point at whatever, man. No need to kill your battery for good,” I told him. I didn’t know if his type of battery cell could be recharged if it was depleted completely, but I didn’t want to take the chance.
“There,” Theo said, pointing to a small box under the memorial. “Hard keys for the armoury, the secure data vault, the platinum reserve vault, biological sanctuary, and the emergency communications system under this building. The hard keys will bypass the codes that you would normally need to enter those secure areas. It’s what I was hiding from the soldiers. I could have hid, I could have shut down so they wouldn’t find me, but they caught me when I was drawing them away from those keys.”
“You had to know they’d catch you, and what would happen,” I told him.
“All part of the plan,” Theo shrugged. His head lolled down so his chin was on his chest, that was the last of the power he had to run his servos. “I didn’t think I’d survive, but life is full of surprises. I’m happy they didn’t get them. Some soldiers are good, they rescue people, protect them. The ones who came here were professional a…”
I waited a moment before finishing for him. “Assholes?”
“Agitators,” he corrected with a snicker. “Corporate fighters. They fight for clients, for money, cause problems.”
“So, why give them to me?”
“You remind me of someone I trusted. Besides, you don’t know how to use them. You’ll have to fix me first.”
“Devious,” I said with a smile. “In a good way.”
“Why not?” I said. “Nothing else to do.”
“Snacks and working tech from this level in the box to your left,” he said. “I must power down now.” The lights went out, so to speak. There wasn’t a sign of life left in the android after that for about fourteen hours.
I didn’t need any of the food he offered, but I thought I’d look in his box anyway. There were a few wrapped gifts, small things with the names of the people on the wall written on them. I found a few chocolate covered strawberries and orange slices, some real gourmet stuff, and enough meal bars to last me a month. If I didn’t already have the food and water problems taken care of, Theo would have saved my life.
While he was sleeping I thought of all the questions I should have asked him, isn’t that always the way? Are there other bots around that survived the electromagnetic pulse? Would any of the vaults and secure areas open, even with a hard key? Did any part of the facility still have power, or could it be reset? Repaired?
The question that haunted me most was one of the last ones to come to mind: Would the emergency communications system be able to find some of my people?
The flow of images and short rescued video clips accompanied by Noah’s voice was interrupted by a high priority alarm. The new system in Alice’s comm unit sent a sense of urgency through her nervous system, and she had a mental picture of where she had to go before she checked the display on her wrist. “I’ve never seen that part of the base before,” Alice said to herself.
“What section?” Yawen asked from the bed across the room.
“It’s a secure briefing room three levels up,” Alice explained. She wasn’t sure she should name it, being marked as clearance level seven. “I have a briefing there, it’s classified.”
“I didn’t get any orders,” Yawen said. “Must be for all you nineties.”
Nineties was a new slang term that was starting to float around. It referred to the fourteen students who still had over ninety points. “Maybe, I’ll tell you about it if I can.”
“No worries, I have enough to deal with. Two make-up tests tomorrow,” Yawen said. “See you later.”
Alice made sure her uniform was in order and left her quarters at a jog. She met Ute, the small amphibian, and Iruuk, one of her favourite people, and a tall, furry Nafalli, in the lift. “Priority briefing?” she asked.
“Classified level seven!” Ute said in an excited whisper. “I thought there were only three security levels.”
“Just because that’s all we’ve ever had access to, doesn’t mean that’s all there is to see,” Iruuk said.
“I guess I was too busy to wonder about it,” Ute said with a shrug.
“You have a point,” Iruuk said. “They have been cramming so much information in our brains and putting us through so many practical tests, I can’t imagine what they want us to learn about now.”
The lift arrived and the trio stepped out, joined by Titus and the rest of the Nineties. “Yawen’t doing two makeup exams tomorrow. She’s in the mid seventies in terms of points, I tell her that’s amazing, and it is, but she’s still scrounging to recover a few points at a time.”
“They’re important practical exams though,” Ute said. “Navigation Three and Technical Support Five. I took Tech Five with her: she barely passed. If she passes on her own she could recover three points.”
“I guess you’re right, I’m just worried that if she retakes too much, she’ll fall behind and have to stay behind,” Alice said.
“I would rather graduate with as many points as possible,” Iruuk said. “So I can see why she wants to go to the trouble. Tell her I can help if she likes.”
“I will, maybe she’ll take help from you.”
They arrived at the broad double doors and walked through as a group. The long room had slate coloured metal walls and floors with only just enough light to walk by. Three clicks on the intercom indicated that an important instruction was about to be given. The door closed. “Stand at attention and face the port side, please.”
Everyone in the room snapped to and fell silent. The three metre tall wall in front of them became transparent, revealing the inside of one of the base’s manufacturing bays. Arms with dematerialization recycler heads that seemed to erase metal as easily as a smudge on glass were busy taking a Haven Shore Runner Class Corvette apart.
“What you are seeing is Classified Level Seven,” said Ayan as she entered through a door from the left. Her curly red hair was bound up in a bun, and she wore a heavy black jacket over her uniform with the markings of Rear Admiral on her shoulder. Ensignia on her chest indicated that she was the Haven Shore Navy Operations Commander.
“That’s one hell of a promotion,” Perry muttered quietly.
“It is,” Ayan said, her expression relaxed, and her diction clear. “The newly elected leadership appointed trustworthy leaders to the Haven Shore military, and I landed here. I would have like to work my way up to my position, but they saw me as the only suitable candidate for this post. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t subjected to testing. Testing I encourage everyone here to try. You will not lose points for failing, but you could gain a few if you manage to make it through half the simulations.”
Ayan glanced at Alice, her expression unchanging, then turned towards the transparent wall. “Be sure, that is the last time I will ever explain how I got my rank or position in this Navy. Now, for the reason you’re really here. I am embarrassed to say that the ships built based on my incomplete designs while I was away had critical flaws. The Runner Class Corvette was an ambitious design, but poorly thought out hull geometry, power systems that don’t take new technology into account, and non-modular thinking render it worse than obsolete – these problems make this model dangerous. It is easier to recycle the entire line and build a new one than it would be to make changes to existing ships.
I realize that you are all waiting for your trainee postings on these ships, but that will obviously have to wait. The Runner Class is being scrapped today.”
Alice’s heart sank. All the effort she put into learning about that ship had gone to waste. She’d even dreamt of being on the bridge of one of the high speed response combat vessels, and she was watching that dream come apart as the base destroyed a ship before her eyes.