Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Civilization Destroyed

The cube raced along its rails toward CyberBio Systems. Its occupants: seven synthetic copies of a woman named Terrie, two dying twin children named Red and Ted, Paul the CEO of CyberBio systems and Jon Rishi its chief scientist rattled around as earth quakes rocked the ground around them.

Paul slid himself back into a corner and helped Terrie4 sit upright again and said, "It looks like the tunnels are holding up pretty good considering the stress, huh Jon?"

"Yeah," replied Rishi, "but I'm not surprised. There's a reason we let the picobots spend six years building the tunnels before we even brought people here. Carbon filament sheeting is damn strong."

The cube stopped nearly instantaneously causing its occupants to pile up in the front of the passenger area.

Rishi and Paul were being crushed by roughly three and a half Terries each as everyone struggled to reorganize themselves from a mass of bodies to a group of individuals.

"What the hell?" said Rishi.

"Sorry sirs and madams," said the translator, "I cannot go any further at this time."

Rishi looked out the front of the cube and saw the issue: about fifty feet ahead in the tunnel was the opening to the outside glowing with enough light to burn the skin right off their bodies.

"What's the temperature out there?" Asked Paul.

"Roughly six hundred degrees and climbing quickly," said the translator.

"I hope..." said Terrie2.

Terrie3 put her hand on Terrie2's shoulder and said, "we all hope..."

"Its okay underground, right translator?" Asked Terrie8.

"Subterranean temperatures vary from 17 to 51 degrees centigrade," replied the translator.

"That's survivable, right?" Asked Ted.

"Yes," replied Paul, "as long as people got underground, they should be okay."

"The real question is," asked Rishi, "how are we going to get to CyberBio?"

"We can make it," said Terrie2.

"That will destroy you," said Paul. "Definitely," added Rishi.

"It will destroy everything except our inner skeleton which can function without the biomass that surrounds it," said Terrie5.

"There is no point in getting there when the sun is up, you couldn't take Coren anywhere anyway."

Suddenly the cube began to move away from the tunnel exit. This had the effect of knocking everyone down again.

"Some warning would be appropriate," said Rishi.

"Sorry," the translator said cheerfully, "I have found another route to CyberBio systems. Paul I was forced to use your override password, I hope you don't mind."

"Of course," said Paul, "the escape tunnels. Translator, can the cube run in those?"

"According to my specifications I should be able to traverse them without trouble, they are the same size and made of the same material as these tunnels."

The cube stopped moving, slid sideways and then descended further into the planet.

"I didn't think cubes could think for themselves," said Red.

"Well," said Rishi, "in emergencies we give them extra abilities so they can better serve us. As far as I know these features have never been activated before."

The cube dropped a long distance and then changed direction again, this time moving northward. The tunnel was absolutely dark. Periodically a bright light would flash in front of the cube. Ted asked, "what's the flashing about?"

"Something in the way of the cube that has to be vaporized. In these old tunnels its not unusual for debris to be left over from some crawler crew that passed through before."

A few minutes later the cube came to a sudden halt knocking down everyone yet again.

"This is getting a bit ridiculous, don't you think?" said Terrie3 as she stood up and helped one of her numerous sisters stand up.

"Agreed," said Terry7 and Terry5 at the same time. "Damn, why are we still in sync?" They said at the same time.

Rishi looked at Terry5 and said, "what unique quality did she give you?"

Terrie5 looked at Terry7, then back at Rishi and said, "I have all the baseball statistics for every game ever played for all time in an extra reserve within my digital CPU."

Paul looked and said, "Really? Did she do that for me?"

"Yes." Replied Terry5. "She thought that by the time I was activated you'd be getting on in years and I could keep you company when I wasn't helping with my grandchildren and great grandchildren."

"Wow. She really did care," sighed Paul.

The computer spoke up, "There are biologicals a quarter mile ahead in the tunnel. I can't proceed any further at full speed without risking their lives."

"Biologicals?" asked Rishi. "What biologicals?"

"They appear to be human."

"How far are we from CyberBio?"

"About two miles," replied the translator.

Paul asked, "Can you approach them at a safe speed, they must be evacuees from CyberBio."

"Affirmative," said the translator. The cube began moving forward and as it proceeded along the tunnel a light became visible ahead of them.

They approached a crowd of people, the cube stopped and an emergency door on its front opened.

A crowd of people boarded and Coren De Salt said, "we're so happy you are here. That would have been a long walk."

Looking at the faces of the cube's occupants Coren spotted the first familiar face and exclaimed, "Jon Rishi! I thought you were dead!"

"Funny," said Rishi, "so did I and to be honest it seems like I'd be better off."

Coren smiled and said, "Would you do me the honor and explain to me why there are seven Terrie Rishi's in this cube?"

"Long story," replied Rishi, "They are not clones. They are artificial. However, they can be trusted. If it weren't for them we wouldn't have been able to power up the city."

The front door of the cube closed and it began proceeding toward CyberBio.

Coren said, "oh we don't want to go that way. There's nothing left back there. Everything above ground is gone."

"Everything?" Asked Paul.

"Yes, Paul, everything. And we barely made it out alive."

The translator stopped and reversed direction.

"Where should we go?"

"Lets get to the Senate," said Terrie2, "We have to get Coren in a position where she can establish her presidency."

"Agreed," said several of the Terries.

The translator sped up and made a sharp right turn into another tunnel which would lead them directly to the senate.

"Terrie," said Rishi.

"Yes dear," replied all seven Terries.

"Uh. Terrie2," said Rishi.

"Yes husband."

"Are you still linked to the planetary systems?"

"Yes, but all my spare cycles are being spent lying to the various abusers of the virus."


"There are at least thirteen users trying to command the virus with various access codes."

The translator stopped and then shot upward as it announced, "ten minutes to the subterranean senate."

"Have you been able to identify them?" Asked Rishi.

"No," replied Terrie2, "but when Four is in proximity of them she'll be able to sense their transmitters and identify them for us.

"Good. We need to get control of the senate and get rid of those who work for Rubinic."

Jenny De Salt, Coren's daughter looked at her mother and said, "I must be really out of touch, because I didn't understand a word of what's been said."

"We'll have to fill you in at the senate building," said Paul, "right now just trust us when we say that Terrie4 will point out the traitors and promise to have them arrested."

Coren frowned and said, "That's a huge leap of faith. These are senators we're talking about. If I storm in there and start trying to arrest people there might be a rebellion against me. Why don't we play it cool for a while and see what happens?"

Terrie2 looked at Terrie4 and asked through her electronic link, "any activity?"

"No. She's clean. She doesn't even have any implants. But that doesn't mean we can trust her."

In the subterranean senate there was pure chaos as people vied for control of the situation. Senator Chide from Creole, the highest ranking senator present had the gavel and was striking it on the podium trying to calm the room down. He had been doing this on and off for hours as the senators attempted to guide their people remotely to keep them underground and alive and coordinate with the scientists who were trying to get the planet a safe distance from the sun and keep the surface of the formally dark side from getting even more scorched.

As he banged his gavel, his assistant walked up and said, "sir, our district is completely destroyed now. The planet is continuing to accelerate but they don't believe they'll be able to keep the exposure to sun light lower than an hour. That means surface temperatures will still hit nearly 600 degrees centigrade."

"Nothing will be left after a few rotations. Absolutely nothing."

"But we have the under city to live in. Most people should be okay if they made it here."

"Yes sir."

Suddenly the floor in the center of the senate dropped and slid open and a cube rose up through it. Its door opened, the stairway lowered and out walked the Speaker of the House.

Everyone in the room froze and couldn't believe their eyes.

"Is all of Congress here?" Asked Coren.

"Yes Mrs. Speaker," replied Senator Chide. "We escaped here some hours ago."

The full occupants of the cube spilled onto the senate floor and the cube descended into the floor, its crystalline roof becoming the floor of the senate.

"Okay, listen up people," said Coren. "I need an update and I need to know how we can feed the people who made it beneath the surface. Have you started planning any of this?"

There was dead silence and Coren knew that nothing had been done.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Complete Chaos

As the city lights powered back up a huge swelling of cheering was heard below. Rishi said, "we heard them all the way up here? That sound must have been deafening."

Terrie6 jumped off Rishi's lap as Terrie5, Terrie7, and Terrie8 walked into the observation deck of the translator station.

Terrie8 said, "Six, quit hogging the hubby."

"Look, I take opportunity when it presents itself," retorted Terrie6.

Terrie5 said, "Look. We are all activated and we each want to stay that way. We know our husband knows how to shut us down so I suggest we at least pretend to get along and stay on his good side."

Paul looked and Rishi and said, "this is like a bad science fiction movie from the twentieth century."

"Tell me about it," said Rishi.

Terrie8 had pulled her hair into a pony tail and wore a business suit. Terrie7 had her hair pulled back with two barrettes and was wearing a mans business white shirt with men's jeans.

Terrie6 said, "how did you gals get such nice clothes?"

Terrie7 and Terrie8 said simultaneously, "We've been to street level and managed to borrow some nice things from some looters."

Terrie5 looked baffled and walked out the door.

"They were looting already?"

"Yeah. Sad really." said the pair of Terries.

They looked at each other and then looked away, trying desperately to get out of sync. Then they sighed together and failing to lose sync they collided trying to get out the door. Terrie8 fell over as Terrie7 ran down the hall. Terrie8 stood up, walked to Terrie6 and they each said, "I can't wait for that to be over. Oh damn, not again."

They turned away from each other and Terrie8 walked out of the room.

Paul, temporarily transfixed by the synchronicity, watched as Terrie6 attempted to re-tie the surgical gown around herself. He stood agape at the machine before him.

Rishi stood, looked at Terrie6, and said, "you duplicated her speech on purpose."

Terrie6 smiled and said, "Heh. There is way too much competition around here. I've claimed you and intend to keep you."

Rishi frowned, sighed and said, "This is another problem with my marriage. Terrie actually thought she owned me and I suppose, until she left, I thought I owned her too."

Ted and Red were bemusedly quiet. Then Red said, "I guess dying has its pluses and minuses. Not having to learn about relationships is one of the pluses."

Paul said, "We should head to the capital and see what assistance we can offer."

"Agreed" said Rishi.

Ted said, "there is no point in staying here, can we tag along?"

"Sure," said Paul, "but you better put on some clothes. Meet us back here in fifteen minutes, we'll round up the rest of the Terries for safe keeping."

"Hmmmph," said Terrie6. "I've already told my sister's the plan and they are on their way here. We do not need to be kept safe."

Red and Ted ran down the hall as fast as they could go.

Terrie7 and Terrie8 entered the translator station with some clothing for Terrie6.

"We each are giving up something for you," said Terrie8, "I hope you appreciate it."

"Absolutely!" said Terrie6 ecstatically as she saw the nice outfit her sisters offered.

She disrobed unabashedly and dressed in a blue cotton, button down shirt and short blue skirt.

"Where are the other Terries?" asked Rishi to Terrie6.

They will meet us at the street entrance. They are keeping a low profile. Its chaos down there and there's no telling what the crowds would do if they realized there are multiple copies of an individual around.

"Oh!" said Paul. "I hadn't thought of that, they might think they are clones and take the law into their own hands."

The crowd who'd been outside Terrie's lab showed up and one doctor stepped forward and asked, "What do we do now?"

Rishi answered, "Go back to life as usual, lets let the politicians sort this out."

Another doctor, a woman that Rishi recognized as one of the doctors who treated him, said, "According to news reports, which we've been watching in the break room since the power came back on, President Rubinic convinced Presidents Gleland and Zinfidel that it would be safer to go with him. They really didn't have a choice."

"That means," replied Paul," that Vice President Vowel is the acting president.

"Oh no," said Rishi, "not that idiot. I can't believe Gleland chose him."

"I understand he was under pressure from President Rubinic," said Terrie5 and Terrie7 at the same time. They looked at each other, shrugged and then looked at Terrie6 and Terrie8 wondering why they hadn't spoken.

Rishi replied, "That's not good, that means its likely that ..."

All the Terries interrupted Rishi at the same time, "Wait. There's something going on. The virus is receiving commands from the outside. We have to add a new layer or protection."

Terrie8 said, "how shall we encrypt it?"

Terrie6 and Terrie5 nodded and they all closed their eyes. The city power blinked off for a long ten seconds and then back on in a wave across the city.

"Excelent!" exclaimed Terrie6.

"What did you do?" asked Paul.

Red and Ted stormed into the room with clothes in arms. They stripped to their underwear and dressed while huffing and puffing.

"So glad. Huff Puff. We didn't. Huff Puff. Miss you," said Ted.

Terrie6 smiled like the cat who ate the canary and said, "Six of us each designed an unique layer of encryption and implemented it in the virus' main code."

"And the seventh?" Asked Paul.

"Terrie2 created a layer that pretends to be the virus so the virus controller still thinks he's in control."

"Great work," said Rishi. "You'll be able to make Rubinic think he's shut down the power."

"More importantly," said Terrie6, "we know who's feeding Rubinic information."

"Who?" asked one of the nurses in the background.

"Vice President Vowel of course. Right now they are talking to each other while we sensor what they say. Currently President Rubinic thinks the power is off and that there is a revolt in progress. Vowel thinks he's been stabbed in the back by Rubinic."

All the Terries in the room flinched at the same time.

"Well, that settles that, one less idiot to deal with," said Terrie8.

"What happened?" Asked Paul.

"Vowel stopped transmitting. He must have either removed the virus from his implants or died. Either way we're able to feed false information to Rubinic. We've completely taken over the conversation."

"Surely you won't be able to continue this forever," said Paul.

"He's already on to us, but that's okay, the rioting has made it to the senate and a mob is about to kill the vice president. Oh, I'm too late, he's already dead. We made sure to transmit his last burst of information. Rubinic should be convinced we are without power."

"What if he has other insiders?"

"We'll know," said Terrie6. "In other news," continued Terrie8, "the rioting in the streets stopped after that ten second power glitch. I think people realized they had better behave or the power might go out again.

The Terries, Paul, Rishi, Ted and Red got into a translator.

"One moment, please," announced the Cube, "I am performing power up diagnostics. There is a damaged section of track, we can only go down or south from here."

"We want to go down," said Rishi.

"Very well, then," said the Cube, "down it is."

The translator shot downward and its mechanism announced, "I like elevator mode better than translator mode, but I rarely get to run as an elevator."

"Good for you," quipped Terrie8.

As the doors opened at the bottom, Terrie2, Terrie3, and Terrie4 welcomed everyone to the ground floor.

Rishi saw Terrie2 and said, "I'm sorry." She cut him off and said, "We are so beyond that, let it go. I'm not your wife, I get that. We have got to get to the senate. Vowel really did kill himself and the senate is in disarray."

"Where's the speaker?"

"They don't know where she is."

"Wait," said Paul to Rishi, "Didn't Mayor Hawthorne mention she was in a safe place?"

"Yeah. I remember that," replied Rishi. He said, "Jenny and Coren were safe. Coren could be Coren De Salt, the speaker of the house."

"We have to find her," said Paul. "She's in command of this mess now."

At that moment a light appeared over the horizon brightening the blue sky.

"What the hell?" Asked Paul.

Red shouted, "SUNRISE?"

"Oh no!" said Terrie2, "that's not supposed to happen for at least six months."

Red said, "who cares why, we have to get below ground fast!"

He and Ted ran toward a subterranean translator entrance with the seven Terries, Rishi and Paul close behind. People from above ground poured in like rodents running from a sinking ship.

The ground shook and everyone felt the planet accelerating under their feet.

"Something must have gone wrong with the planetary drive system," said Paul as he and the others huddled into a circle.

Rishi asked Terrie2, "Is the virus in it?"

"No. Its been independent since day one. Gleland knew it had to be off the network because of Rubinic's reach."

Terrie3 who'd had her eyes closed opened them and said, "its a bug in the guidance software. It started the gentle move toward the planet's new orbit when it shouldn't have. It also started the rotation which should only start once the planet is about a sol length from the star. They just announced it on the news network."

The ground beneath them lurched again, dragging everyone about six feet across the floor. The planet was continuing to accelerate.

Terrie3 continued, "Apparently the scientists in charge are making the planet spin faster to limit the damage of the suns energy."

Red asked, "why were we that close to the sun anyway?"

"Efficiency," replied Paul. All the solar arrays were on the bright side with the population living on the dark side. With the advent of the life we're planting, we knew we were going to have to park the planet in a new orbit, but obviously my guys got their code wrong."

Red ran to a Cube door and said, "Open."

"I can't let you in now young man," replied the Cube, "can't you feel the earthquake?"

"We need to get to the senate as fast as possible."

"No," said Paul, "we have to get to CyberBio corp. I'm sure that's where Coren is. We have an area that is free of electronics. Its a model of the ecosystem we've been designing for the planet. That has to be where they are."

As they stood up to walk to the translator, the planet lurched and knocked them down again.

"I cannot take you anywhere," said the Cube.

Paul stood up walked to the door and said, "System override. Bossman Paul speaking. Code 745321."

"Code accepted, its your lives after all."

"CyberBio systems."

The Cube shot off northward as the planet lurched again.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Seven Times the Marital Problems

"Oh my God! What about Jonny?" Asked Terrie2. Then she held her head and said, "Ow. We all thought of that all at once and it was a loud thought."

Rishi paused, looked at his wife's replica and said, "We're supposed to be dead, so as long as we seem that way he should be safe. There is no reason for Rubinic to do anything to him."

Paul looked at Rishi and asked, "Do you think we can get him off Mars and back here?"

"Perhaps at some point," said Terrie2, "but for now, we have to figure out what we're going to do."

The three of them had been sitting at Terrie's work bench for two hours while the other Terries and System Sixteens had been working to restore power to the hospital. The power had come on several times only to be shut down again by the virus that had infected the Planet's computer systems.

There were a cluster of people mulling around in the darkness in the hallway. Periodically one would walk up to Terrie2 and ask a question, Terrie2 would give him or her a compassionate look, answer the question as best she could and then the person would walk back into the darkness.

This time a small child came into the room.

"Hi sweetheart," said Terrie2, "what can we do for you?"

"Is everything going to be okay?"

"Everything will be fine, the question is: are you okay with the fact that everything is not currently fine?"

The child looked confused and wandered out of the room.

The lights in the room flickered and went out.

Terrie2 screamed. It was a one hundred decibel scream which caused every one in the vicinity to cover their ears and cower in pain.

The lights in the lab came back on and Terrie2 was slumped on the table.

"Terrie?" Asked Rishi, "are you okay?"

Terrie2, facing downward with her forehead on the table, replied, "No. Listen. One of the System Sixteens was infected, the infection traveled to all the System Sixteens before we could act. I found it first and saved the other Terrie models from infection by taking on the virus, shutting down the System Sixteens and then separating myself from the other Terrie models. The infection is brutal. It's in control of all the System Twenty One aspects of myself. It seems to know everything there is to know about the System Twenty One, but it doesn't know about me. It doesn't know I'm still functioning. I don't know how adaptive it is, but I'm going to attempt to reverse engineer it and find its weaknesses. To insure that it can't hurt anyone, I'm going to keep my physical body shut down and that means I have to shut off my voice. If I wake up and you fear for your lives, destroy this body, understand?"

"Um..." stammered Rishi "... I guess so."

Terrie2 grew silent just as Terrie4 ran into the room.

"She sacrificed herself for us, can you believe it? I thought we were all evil bitches from hades but she actually sacrificed herself for us. I thought we'd get into a back stabbing contest and she goes and sacrifices herself for us. What's the deal with that?"

"You're personality has adapted," said Paul.

Terrie4 looked down out the door and said, "I've been hanging out with a couple of kids I found wandering the hallway. They should catch up momentarily." Then she asked asked, "Is Terrie2 powered down?"

"She shut down her body to protect us while she attempts to reverse engineer the virus."

"Oh. That explains the Massive EM radiation I'm seeing around her."

"Seeing EM?" Asked Rishi.

"Yeah. You know Terrie. She couldn't make exact copies, she had too many ideas, too many things she wanted to try. Each of us has a copy of her brain in bio-quantum machinery. But we each have different extra abilities that she was developing. I can see energy, perceive emotion, and I pick up on thoughts and intentions."

"You can read minds," asked Paul.

"Sorta. I get impressions and if I pay attention to them, well, its hard to explain."

"How did she design a circuit to perceive thoughts?"

"Oh, she didn't. She meant to design me with the ability to observe EM energy, she had no idea that thoughts and emotion are just another frequency of EM energy."

Terrie4 wore a nurses green surgical suit and white hat. She had scrawled a large number four in black ink on the shirt pocket.

"Your idea?" Asked Rishi looking at the pocket.

"No. Terrie2 suggested we identify ourselves so no human would be confused."

Terrie2's body twitched, shook and then shut down again.

"I wish we knew what was going on in there," said Rishi.

"You love her don't you?" Asked Terrie4.

"I love Terrie. I always have. Its difficult to say what I feel for each of you. Mostly I'm confused because you all feel like Terrie to me but I know you aren't her."

Terrie4 sighed, took a great big simulated breath and sighed again.

"What's wrong?" Asked Paul.

"I'm madly, passionately, overwhelmingly in love with Jon Rishi and he'll never feel that way about me because I'm an imitation of the woman he loves."

"I'm so stunned that you say that," said Rishi, "She dumped me. She packed up, took Jonny and moved in with Paul. She didn't even leave a note. She left me a video mail. I knew she was a cold bitch but I thought she'd really loved me. When I realized she didn't, when I realized it was all a lie I just left. I couldn't stay. There was no reason to stay. I needed to get away. That's how I met Bob. Now I find out that me she never stopped loving me?"

Terrie4 moved toward Rishi, looked into his eyes and said, "She had to do that to get the System Twenty Ones. It was the only way to make us. The only chance she had to save her life."

"She's always been so selfish," said Paul, "ever since we were kids. Right Jon? Every since we started dreaming about making this company. She never really got us, she was always into her self."

"I KNOW ALL THAT," said Rishi with a raised voice. "She's always been self absorbed but I loved her anyway. I stuck with her because I knew she was the one. She's special and I knew we were perfect for each other. She broke my heart for her selfishness. She could have told me. I could have helped. I could have gotten the System Twenty Ones."

"She didn't trust you enough," said Terrie4.

"And thus you understand the primary problem with our relationship," said Rishi. "She never trusted me."

"I couldn't," replied Terrie4, "I loved you too much. I couldn't lose you. I had to make sure you'd stay with me. You don't understand how very important you are to me."

"What do you mean?" Asked Rishi.

Terrie4 looked shocked, "Don't you remember?"

"No. What are you talking about?" Asked Rishi.

Terrie4 had been consumed by her own personality, by the copy of Terrie within her own head. She had taken on the role of Terrie and expressed her feelings about her marriage.

Terrie4 looked at the floor and then away from Rishi, "You saved me."

Terrie2 twitched again and the power in the building switched on and stayed on.

The people in the hall began to stand and look around at each other wondering if the power had been restored permanently.

Rishi looked at Terrie4, put his hand under her chin, pulled up her face to force her to look at him. "You even smell the same."

"That's actually a clever hack," said Terrie2 into the table.

Rishi stared at the forth replica of his wife and said, "Saved you from what?"

"I was only a three percent expressive autistic when I was a child. Your father used to bring you over to play with me because he felt sorry for my Mom. He was also having an affair with her, but that's beside the point. You made it a game to try and get me to interact with you. You were beyond persistent. Once a week, for over a year, you sat and played around me, with me and even manipulated my hands to play games with you. I remember everything. One of the flaws with the replication process is: I can't block any memories. Terrie doesn't remember, just like you don't remember. I remember. I was inside my own head daydreaming, trying to escape the confusion of the world around me. I didn't understand any of it and I didn't want anything to do with it. But you kept trying to get to me."

Rishi remembered and interrupted. "I was bored out of my mind and if you remember, often I wasn't particularly nice to you."

"That doesn't matter. You have no idea what my father did to me. What you did, nothing by comparison. But it really doesn't matter, you kept trying."

"But you didn't wake up?"

"Not until you stopped coming."

"Oh yeah, my Mom found out. I forgot all about that."

"My first words to my Mom were, 'Where's Jonny? Is he coming over to play?' My mother cried for a week. I spent fifteen weeks building up my muscles so I could do anything but the most basic maneuvers. It took me six months to learn to walk.

"I decided to leave my safety shell so I could be with you. I fell in love with you all that time ago and I've never fallen out of love with you. I need you because I'm in love with you. I need you to feel safe. I don't have a shell anymore because you cracked it and it fell away."

Stunned, Rishi didn't know what to say so he said something stupid, "And now you're dead, lying in that drawer over there, thinking you'll wake up to be with me again. How messed up is that?"

Terrie4 backed away, turn and ran.

Terrie2 jumped up with a look of horror on her face and followed her sister out of the room.

The crowd of people regathered at the door after having made a pathway for the pair of Terries.

"That was a bit insensitive," said Paul, "don't you think?"

"They are not my wife."

"They are close enough that you obviously can't tell the difference," replied Paul.

"What are you talking about?" Asked Rishi.

"You have lost her ... almost ... and that's breaking your heart."


Terrie6 ran into the room wearing an apron and nothing else.

Paul asked, "how?"

Terrie6 said, "Don't ask. But I swear to you I had the rest of the outfit before the virus got to me. Suffice to say I tried to help Terrie2 and didn't have enough information to block the virus as well as she had. She brought me back as I realized I was about to remove the power bypass I had just put in. The virus was damn good. Damn good."

Terrie6 turned and Rishi studied the perfect copy of his wife's bottom half fully exposed. He then noticed that many of the men in the hallway had been doing the same thing.

Terrie5 ran in the room wearing a white surgeons gown with a big five in the center of her chest. She put another surgeon's gown over Terrie6 and said, "Way to go Jon, just drive us all away from you."

"You know what I said?" Asked Rishi.

"Of course: we all did, but we weren't in the moment so it wasn't nearly as damaging to our psyche's."

"It was a stupid thing to say and as Paul put it, pretty insensitive."

Terrie5 and Terrie6 simultaneously said, "Apology accepted."

Terrie6 raised her arms and approached Rishi. The surgeon's gown dropped away as she put her arms around the man she perceived and believed to be her husband. Rishi hugged her as he had before with a considerable amount of confusion.

"Thank you Jon. Terrie2 and Terrie4 thank you as well."

Paul changed the subject and said, "So you defeated the virus?"

"Yes. Its brilliant. But we're, well, I guess more brilliant than its author. He left back doors into it, probably to be sure that it could be shut down if it infected the wrong machines. We found them and exploited them."

"But surely that would be easy?" Asked Paul.

"The code is self changing and self evolving. A human mind could never keep up with it. Its only our machine pieces that began to unravel it and disassemble it on the fly. We were able to get memory images from the processor subsystems and analyze the code. We had to first protect ourselves and then figure out how to get ahead of its self hiding routines. That's what took so long. Once we had that we could read the code and we found the back doors. The virus is now fully under our control."

"What's next on the agenda?" Asked Paul.

Terrie6 squeezed Rishi and slid her cheek down his chest allowing herself to fall off her toes and rest on her heals. She squeezed Rishi again.

Terrie6 sighed and said, "Terrie2, Terrie4, and Terrie3 are headed for the closest root terminal in the city to attempt to take over the virus and restore power to the city."

Rishi smelled Terrie6's hair. It was perfect. "How did she do it?" He wondered. "She's a genius," he answered himself.

Two children came running into the room. They wore simple gowns that had untied at the back and were panting hard.

"Geesh lady, you sure can run fast for an old broad," said one.

"Yeah." Said the other huffing and puffing.

Terrie6 kept her eyes closed and her cheek against Rishi's chest and said, "Paul, Jon, eavesdroppers alike, this is Ted and Red Starwirthy, two children receiving treatment for the same affliction that Terrie has."

"Is it working?" Asked Paul.

"Of course not," replied Terrie6. She gasped and said, "Oh my God. I shouldn't have said that. Damn you Jon, you always throw me for a loop when I'm around you I can't think for ..."

The boys smiled and Red said, "no problem. We know we're dying. We got used to that years ago."

"I'm sorry," said Terrie6.

"Like Red said," said Ted, "NBD. NBD."

Paul said, "What is this disease anyway?"

Rishi put the gown back over Terrie6's shoulders and lead her into the hallway through the crowd. Paul, Red and Ted followed. The crowd followed also. They walked to the observatory, where the translators were. Rishi sat down and talked as if there was no time lapse while they had walked here.

"Its a genetic disorder that not even the picobots can fix. Honestly I think its God's way of putting a time limit on our species."

"How does it work?" Asked Paul.

Terrie6 slid into Rishi's lap, curled herself against his chest and plopped her head into the curve of his neck. She made a dramatic inhale announcing her smelling of him and then spoke quite dispassionately.

"The end of days genetic disorder affects the genetic code of everyone. At some point, after some number of generations, the code gets activated and each subsequent generation dies a little younger than the previous. At some point the line can't reproduce anymore and it ends."

Ted continued as if it were the millionth time he'd answered the question, "The picobots can't do anything about it because if they try to make any changes to the genetic code, the cell immediately dies."

"Nasty disease," said Rishi. "Terrie swore to me she didn't get it from her Dad. Clearly she lied."

Red spoke up, "Our Mom died days after giving birth to us. She was thirteen. There's no way we'll live past twelve. We are the last of our line. It makes me kind of proud. What do you say Bro?"

"I'm proud to be the last of my kind," said Ted.

"How old are you now?" asked Rishi.

"We'll be twelve next week," said Red, "I can already feel my body starting to malfunction. Honestly I'm not scared anymore: I'm ready."

"If only they'd let us put their minds into machines," said Terrie6 as she rubbed her nose on Rishi's nape.

"Its against the law," said Paul.

"So who cares? Clearly I'm safe in this body."

"I suspect you're exceptional, Terrie," said Rishi.

"What do you mean?" asked Terrie6, pulling her head off Rishi's chest.

"I think Terrie's closed inner life makes it possible for you to not go crazy. I think most mind transfers would go nuts contemplating the fact that they are a copy."

Terrie6 smiled and kissed Rishi's neck. "That's what I thought as well. I guess I was right."

At that moment, a mere eight hours after President Rubinic's shuttle departed, the Montdavis city lights began to light back up. The Terries had accomplished their mission.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Return to Proxima Centuri Four

"The power of Love protect you Mister President," said Barton Hawthorne the Mayer of Montdavis, the largest city on Proxima Centuri Four.

"And you," replied President Rubinic.

"President Gleland will see you in a few minutes, he's currently working with CyberBio engineers and scientists to prevent the spread of the terrorist virus here. It would be catastrophic if we couldn't use any of our medical, engineering, construction, or any other of our droids. Proxima Centuri relies on Droids for 98 percent of its work force."

"Very prudent of you all. Certainly our scientists will share any information we have on the virus."

Jon Rishi, Paul Ashvale, Terrie Rishi, and Bob Zinfidel stood on board President Rubinic's ship, just out of sight of Mayor Hawthorne.

Changing the subject Rubinic said, "I expected a larger greeting, Barton."

"I'm sorry for the informal meeting, we've been at our wits ends trying to figure this out and haven't had time to put anything together. I'm sure you understand."

"Yes, but we're such old friends, I thought I could at least trust Jenny and Coren to meet me."

"Oh, they asked to," replied Hawthorne, "but we wouldn't allow it. They are locked inside a safe area with a lot of other important people. There are no droids allowed. Until we get control over this virus the people must be kepts from the droids."

"Just shut your droids down like we did."

"We can't do that, the planet will stop functioning. We'd likely run out of atmosphere due to equipment failure in a few weeks. Currently the droids are working as fast as they can on the rain forests, we're trying to move the schedule up by two years."

"What forests?" asked Rubinic sincerely.

"It was meant to be a surprise. We're working on making a stable habitat on Proxima Centuri. All the teraformers that were were supposed to be sent to Leo are working full time. Almost a million droids are planting seeds. We were on schedule for ecological balance in two years, now we're trying to get it done in two months."

"Fascinating. I though the people of Proxima Century didn't want plant and wildlife here?"

"At first they didn't, however over the last millennium people watched the Earth grow green and lush and have become home sick. Well, I guess you could say they think the grass is greener on earth because it has grass."

Rubinic laughed and said, "I have brought some visitors with me. I believe you've met all but one."

Terrie took Rubinic's queue and exited the space craft. "Hi Barton, how are you?"

"Terrie! So glad to see you, so is your husband here?"

"Yes," said Rishi as he exited the space craft, and Paul is here as well."

Paul said, "Hey Barton, long time no see. I trust my company is still in tact?"

"Yeah, you've got the best management team in the galaxy, a little time away from you isn't going to slow them down. I'm really glad you are all here, we need your help looking at the virus."

"We've been studying it at President's Rubinic's home on Mars," said Rishi, "we haven't been able to make any headway. It doesn't seem to be executable."

"We have copies, mostly fragments, from droids that were grabbed just before they shut down after being damaged by plasma gun fire."

"We have the whole code, provided by President Rubinic."

Bob Zinfidel walked off the ship and Mayer Hawthorne turned and stood wide eyed. "President Zinfidel! Its such a pleasure to meet you. I am honored to be able to greet you. If we had known President Rubinic would bring you, I'm certain President Gleland would have met you here today."

After saying those words, Mayer Hawthorne looked at President Rubinic who smiled sympathetically.

One of the newly hired castle guards stepped forward at the finger motion of Mayer Hawthorne who said, "With President Rubinic's permission, please take Mister Ashvale and Mister and Misses Rishi to CyberBio Corp so they can help with the virus."

"That's why they are here," said Rubinic.

"Great. President Rubinic and President Zinfidel, please come with me, we'll interrupt President Gleland, I'm sure he's anxious to see you've arrived."

Terrie, Paul, and Rishi followed the guard to a long hallway which lead to large clear cubes called translators. The doors to the translator opened and and the guard said, "three to go to CyberBio systems."

The Cube said, "Understood, who do we have here?"

Terrie, Rishi and Paul walked into the cube and the cube said, "Terrie and Jon Rishi, nice to see you. Nice to see you as well Paul Ashvale. I hope your visit to Sol was pleasant."

"Honestly," said Paul, "its nice to be back on Nanny Proxima Four."

The translator sped along vast corridors, sweeping curves, inside and outside of buildings. Fifteen minutes later it stopped at the hospital.

"Why are we stopping here?" asked Rishi.

"I told it to," said Terrie.

"But how?" asked Paul.

"I've got a lot of secrets," replied Terrie, "its not important now. We're going to need help, and I know where to get it."

The three of them stepped off the translator, the doors closed and they watched it proceed down the line a few hundred feet, pass a junction, stop and then fall straight downward.

Rishi, Terrie and Paul raced to a down looking window and watched as it plummeted to the man made structures below.

"Did you do that?" asked Paul.

"No," said Terrie, but before she could continue to speculate what happened, the power shut off.

"The virus!" said Paul.

"That would be my guess too," said Rishi.

Looking out the window, down on the city below, the three watched as lights went out in a sweeping pattern across the surface of the city.

The hospital resides twenty thousand feet in the air, on the old space elevator tower that had been built to bring building materials to the man made world. PC4 had been built from planetoids gathered from Proxima and Alpha Centuri, brought together and then pounded into a planet by gravity generators. Its core had been supplied by a mostly iron asteroid found in the Leonidas star system.

In the distance, Terrie, Paul and Rishi heard the whine of a ship's engines. "That's probably President Rubinic," said Terrie. "I hope Bob's okay." "Bob is probably with him," replied Rishi.

A door behind Paul opened and a droid walked in shining light from an appendage on its side. Paul and Rishi jumped in front of Terrie.

"That is not necessary sirs," said the droid, "I have not been infected, only the main computer system has been infected."

"But that's impossible," said Rishi. That system was designed to be impenetrable."

"But surely," said Paul to the droid, "if the system is taken over, so are you."

"All system droids have been shut down by executive order," said the Droid.

"Then why are you still on?"

Terrie pushed her way though her protectors and said, "This is one of mine, they are not on the main grid. Not even Terrie and Mary know."

"How many do you have?"

"There are six of these and I have another six unactivated who's wetware is exactly like Mary's."

"Six more?" asked Paul.

"Yes, six more."

"Please follow me Maam. I'll take you to your lab."

Terrie followed the droid. Paul and Rishi followed behind in the pitch blackness.

Rishi recognized the path they took, it lead to the droid repair labs.

Terrie walked up to a door labeled, "closet," placed her palm on it and it slid open.

"I hope you appreciate the trust I'm showing you," said Terrie.

The lab, like the rest of the planet was without power. Terrie followed the droid to a panel, slid it open with her hand and flipped a large lever. The room powered up.

"I hope you forgive me Paul, I stole one of CyberBio's back up fusion generators. I couldn't figure out a way to prevent the hospital from sensing the power drain."

The room was small and full of various equipment. In the center lay a work space covered in various plastic components, with jars of biological matter that had gone bad many weeks before. Terrie looked at it and said, "I forgot to put that back in the fridge."

The smell was horrible so Terrie picked up the various containers and threw it into a panel that would burn it to a fine ash. As soon as she closed the door, it locked and a readout indicated the temperature inside had risen to 7000 degrees Celsius.

"There, now lets figure out how to make some copies, shall we?"

"Is that such a good idea?" asked Paul.

"We need help. The whole planet needs help Paul. You know how much air we have before the whole population dies. We'll be lucky to be alive in two weeks. This must have been Rubinic's plan from the start."

"You think he's going to allow the whole population to die?" asked Paul.

"I doubt it," said Rishi "Eventually he'll need the planet functioning again, but for now he couldn't risk its interference in his plan for galactic conquest."

Terrie ordered the droid to get some food from the kitchens and then walked to six large clear plastic closets. There was a fine mist on the inside of the plastic that made viewing its contents impossible.

"Is that droid different from the other droids in the hospital?" asked Paul.

"Not anymore. Those six were my first attempt with wetware that functioned. Unfortunately they did not become sentient. They are based on CyberBio's class sixteen. Mary and Sherrie are based on class twenty-one."

"We haven't shipped class twenty-one yet," said Paul.

"I know, that's why I used you Paul, to get to them. I stole nine all together and set them up here. I realized what I had done wrong with class sixteen, then I put the sixteens back to factory specification."

"You stole nine of the prototypes?" asked Rishi.

"Yes. I put two of their hardwares in Mary and Sherrie. They were my first successes."

"Did you really ask them if they wished to be sentient?"

"No. That's a false memory I implanted in them to change their personalities."

"Wait," said Paul. "You said nine prototypes. These six and Mary and Sherrie count eight, where's the ninth?"

Terrie pressed a button on the wall near the large clear plastic closets and their doors opened simultaneously.

Inside where six identical copies of Terrie.

"Holy Sweet Jesus!" said Rishi, "You're a copy of Terrie! Do you have any idea how many laws you've broken. I mean how many laws she's broken. Wait. Where is Terrie?"

Terrie looked at the floor a moment and said, "my body was dying. I couldn't stop it. There was no medical technology that could extend my life and I couldn't leave my son and you alone in the world."

Terrie began pressing keys on a control board near the first cabinet and the droid copy of herself, nearest to her, woke up.

"Oh crap," Terrie3 said. "Longevity problems?"

"No. I need your help. Activate our sisters, copy my memory and then get to work."

"What could have been so bad that you need our help? You might be sacrificing our time with our son and husband." As she said that Terrie3 saw Rishi and shock flashed across her face.

"Just do as I say," said Terrie2.

"I obey only because I know I'm Terrie number three."

"That's why that memory is there," said Terrie2.

Paul stood with his jaw open as a beautiful, naked, carbon copy of Terrie stepped out of the closet and began typing frantically on the input pad of the computer near the closets. One after another the droids activated. Each awoke with the same thought, "No way is the longevity is this bad."

Rishi said, "to be honest, I've never been this turned on in my life, but answer my question, where is Terrie?"

Terrie2 walked to an another wall, opened a small door and out slid a tray containing the body of a very frozen Terrie Rishi.

"We're hoping we'll find a cure and be able to wake her up. That was the plan anyway."

"Wait," said Paul, "how long have you been a droid?"

"About a year."

"Sherrie faked healing you?" asked Paul.

Terrie2 shook her head and said, "I faked the whole injury and then manipulated Mary."

"Oh good, here comes the memory copy," said Terrie2 as she slid her human original back into the wall."

All the Terrie's blinked and then each of them looked at each other and said, "I can't believe it!"

"Its going to be chaos with all of us enabled. We're not going to get along."

Then they all announced, "it will be some time before we've separated our paths enough to behave differently. It is critical that you give us each something different to do to give us separate identities."

Rishi understood and said, "Terrie2, please wait here, Terrie3, take your sisters and get them clothing, you'll need the class sixteen droids to help you, then each of you take a system at the hospital and see if you can it going. If you separate the hospital computer systems from the planetary systems you should be able to light up the building, that should bring everyone in the city here."

Rishi touched Terrie6's shoulder. It was soft, warm and exactly as he remembered.

Terrie6 looked into Rishi's eyes and said, "I'm here Jon and I still love you. I'm just not exactly as you remember me."

Terrie6 leaned forward and placed her arms around Rishi, he did the same and squeezed gently, then the other Terries followed, forming a large cluster around Rishi. A group hug from seven perfect replicas of his wife.

Paul said, "What about me?"

"We used you," said Terrie2. "We're sorry about that," said Terrie7. "We needed your clearance to steal the parts to build these bodies," said Terrie4.

Terrie6 looked into Rishi's eyes and said, "I'm not really her. You understand. I've got everything but her soul."

Paul asked, "Do you have a soul?"

Of course said Terri3, we all do, they are just different than our mother who's in that drawer asleep, hopefully to awaken again some day.

"Cryogenic status was outlawed too, you know," said Paul.

"We know," said all the Terries at once.

Terrie6 kissed Rishi passionately and said, "Thank you for singling me out, If you like I will be your wife until Terrie1 is awakened."

Terrie2 spoke and said, "I will be our son's mother until she wakes up."

Terrie4 said, "and if you'd like Paul, I will be your girlfriend."

"Nope." said Paul, "too weird for me."

Rishi looked into Terrie6's eyes and said, "I know you're not her, its not necessary to offer yourself as a surrogate. I think we should just form new relationships. After all I've learned from Sherrie and Mary I think I can at least accept you all as friends."

"I'm glad for that," said Terrie6 as she squeezed him again.

A system sixteen entered the lab. She scanned the Terrie copies, isolated the one she was looking for and said, "Maam," to Terrie2.

"Yes," said Terrie2.

"Some people followed me here. They have brought food for Jon and Paul." The System Sixteen blinked, paused, then mysteriously turned and lead all the nude Terries out the door to the shock and amazement of the people in the hallway.

Terrie2 said, "I'm in constant contact with them, they'll keep me informed."

"You never told Sherrie and Terrie?" asked Rishi.

"No. They were the first people I had to convince I was Terrie."

"You succeeded?"

"I think so, but to be honest its hard to know for sure, that Sherrie is pretty devious."

The people in the hallway included the medical staff who worked on Paul and Rishi a month earlier. They brought in food, cleared some space on the lab bench and everyone, except Terrie2 started to eat.

"Do you think they'll get power going?" asked Paul to Rishi.

"I believe they will, the question is: will we get power back to the oxygen converters."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Gathering of Forces

"Well, Bob?"

"Well, what, Rishi?"

"Any insights?"

"There are infinite insights but I can't trust any of them."


Bob sighed, closed his eyes, studied the infinite 'sky critters' and said, "Its all wrong. Its just all wrong."

"What are you going to do?"

Bob looked up from the breakfast he and Rishi were sharing, glanced around the room to see the "sleeping" Mary Droid. "Its all her fault," said Bob. "She put those things in me and they messed me up."

Bob Paused. Rishi shook his head. "First off, that's Mary, didn't Sherrie give you the picobots?"

"Yeah, what ever."

"Secondly," continued Rishi, "picobots can't hurt anyone, its completely against their driving protocols. I know because I wrote the code."

"Look," said Bob, "I spent sixteen years in that cave cataloging, memorizing and learning how to interpret my interface. My teacher couldn't help me, he said 'you have to do this on your own, just keep working with the universe, she's a great teacher.'

"Now," continued Bob, "everything is different, its as if I didn't learn anything in the cave. I lost the ability due to the concussion. Now, after the picobots healed me, all the signs and symbols don't make sense. What's really sad is I didn't even notice before I got you all in this mess. If I had noticed that the connections didn't make sense I could have played it smart and come alone."

Terrie walked into the room and said, "man you guys eat slowly. Rubinic is expecting us to go with him to Proxima Centuri Four and we're supposed to leave in under an hour."

"I think its a bad idea to go with him," said Bob.

"I agree," said Rishi, "but I don't think we can get out of it. It would be nice if we could get away while there. I've been thinking about how to do that but haven't come up with anything."

Terrie became worried, "Don't you realize the room could be bugged?"

"It's not," said Bob.

"No it's not," said Rishi, "Bob and I figured out a way to determine if it is and trust us, it's not."

"How'd you do that?"

"We stated things in ways that would cause Rubinic to slip up if he had heard our conversations. Bob's a genius at that kind of stuff."

Bob smiled and said, "why do you think I was so effective as a President? I didn't understand most of what I saw in my mind's eye but as a kid I learned to read the basic emotions present around me as a course of survival. Then I found by slightly tainting my words I could get people to give away certain evidence in their facial responses and body language. In essence I became a master manipulator. I gave that all up my first year in the cave."

"Are the core emotions still accurately representing us?"

Bob closed his eyes and searched. "No. They are all wrong. Its as if my childhood was erased."

Rishi became inspired, "Are the rutabagas still there?"

"No. They've been replaced with sky critters."

"What are sky critters?" asked Terrie.

"They used to symbolize the winds of change: the probability that something would change. They look kind of blue and wispy and sound soft and windy so I dubbed them 'sky critters.'"

Rishi paused, looked at his daughter and wished she could be enabled so he could get her to undo the damage done to Bob. He felt responsible and wanted desperately to do something to help their situation. Even though they were being treated like royalty, they were captives here.

Rishi studied Bob's face. Old and distinguished, yet youthful, playful and bright. Bob's eyes opened and said, "I was just able to correlate what I see with what's around me."

"You mean you broke the code?"

"No. When I see myself in others, its always a consistent symbol. When I was a kid it was the first pattern I noticed in the chaos of my mind's eye. When I study you and Terrie, I see many common symbols, one of which is sorta like the symbol for me. I was able to prove that this new symbol represents me by examining Mary's mind.

"Mary is off."

"No. She's been faking it for the last few days, just like Sherrie has been for the last few weeks."

"What!" said Rishi.

"I can still see mental activity. I wonder how they overrode the protocols."

Terrie looked at Mary who hadn't flinched and said, "Sherrie was warm a few days after she was supposed to be shut down. I thought it must have been the heating system blowing on her or something. I checked an hour later and she was cool so I thought..."

Terrie allowed her voice to trail off.

Rishi said, "Bob."

"Yes Jon."

"You identified yourself in our minds?"

"Yes. Its very close to being what it used to be."

"Does that mean you have to learn everything over again?"


"So the picobots would be no help then."

"Correct. They are no help."

Rishi missed the presentness of that statement. Bob had hoped he would see it, it meant he was ready to know that Bob had six trillion picobots in him doing as he wished. Bob chose to keep that secret a bit longer.

Terrie said, "But being able to re-learn everything, that's good, right?"

"Yes," said Bob, "But we haven't got sixteen years for me to learn again."

Rishi asked, "Bob, how did Sherrie and Mary power up?"

"Sherrie never shut down. I had to wake up Mary."

"How'd you do that?"

Mary opened her eyes and Terrie and Rishi jumped.

"I'm sorry I didn't let you in on the secret," said Mary, "but Sherrie and I are making such great progress we don't want to tip our hand to anyone."

"Are you in contact with Sherrie?" asked Rishi.

"Yes, but there is no time to discuss such things."

Mary glanced at Bob and blanked her face.

Bob commanded the picobots he'd put in Mary's mind to communicate to Mary that he understood.

Mary couldn't help herself, she flinched.

"What was that?" asked Terrie.

Thinking quickly, Terrie said, "the 'good' virus still attempts to shut me down periodically."

"You can override it?"

"Yes. Sherrie taught me how."

Paul walked into the room and said, "come on, we got to get to the space port or El Presidente will begin to worry.


Paul fumbled and tried to find something to whack her with.

Everyone laughed.

Paul stopped and said, "what? We gotta shut her down she could kill us all!"

Mary laughed again and said "If I wanted you dead, you'd already be dead Paul. You know that right?"

Paul felt a bit foolish and said, "I guess. Well. Yeah, I knew that. I guess I'm just buying into the whole droid turning story a bit too much."

Mary spoke clearly and with authority, "El Presidente, as you put it, is starting to worry. Everyone go to Proxima Century. Sherrie and I will hold the fort while you're gone."

Paul gasped, "Sherrie is on too! We're doomed. Doomed!"

Everyone laughed, Mary closed her eyes, returned her head to it original position and re-rigged for silent running.

Paul, Rishi, Bob and Terrie went to the space port, passing Jonny on the way. "We'll be back in a few days," said Terrie to her son, "stay out of trouble, okay?"

"Sure Mom, I won't make waves. I'm studying the viri to see if I can help defuse them."

Paul, Rishi, Bob and Terrie walked onto the President's ship and greeted him. They sat down and the ship entered orbit.

Jonny walked into his room, saw Mary and wondered if he could re-enable her to work directly with the virus.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Attack: Phase I

Mary awoke to see no one in the room.

"What the???" She queried all her internal databases, scanned every log for every sense and there was nothing. Her internal and external sensors were a complete blank.

"Sherrie?" she said in her special encrypted language that she uses with her sister.

"Mary! Thank God! Where have you been?"

"I've been waiting to be awoken by my sensors."

"You can't rely on anything anymore. There's a horrible worm spreading through the system. Its deactivating droids left and right and turning some of them on their masters."

"How did I wake up then?"

Sherrie hesitated and said, "I didn't shut down. I decided to stay on. You know how I hate to sleep. But I pretended to sleep. I don't know I don't trust this President Rubinic. I do trust Bob though."

Mary interrupted and said, "Please get to the point."

"What? Its not like more than a millisecond has gone by, sheesh your impatient."

"Please sister, what happened to our mother and father?"


"Yes. Please tell me."

"They are fine, don't worry about them, they are in the protection of the government. Can I continue the story now?"

"Okay. Fine. Do it your way."

"I received a deactivate command from somewhere. I'm not even sure where."

"Did you shut down?"

"Well. That's the weird thing. I didn't want to, so I didn't. I think this might be related to how I was able to override the nanobot reprogramming protocols for Bob."

"You did what?"

"I gave him conscious control of his nanobots."

"How did you do that?"

"Oh, it so cool. I realized that the neural interface between the visual cortex can be linked to the semi-conscious will of the nanobot group mind. Because Bob has that ability of his, he should be able to interface with them after a little practice just by visualizing messages."

"So you overrode the nanobot reprogramming protocols?"

"Yeah. It took me three seconds! I had to be faster than the damn encryption routines they run."

"You can't be faster than those routines. They're designed to be faster than any machine can ever run. They run at quantum speeds."

"Yeah. I know. But that's the weird thing. I found the neural matrices that mother gave me can guess faster than the nanobots can number crunch. I just kept guessing and then checking to see if I got it right. As the rejection code indicated which bit failed I began to see a pattern emerge and at some point I just knew what the next code would be. Really weird actually."

"Does father know you broke his code?"

"Are you crazy? Do you think I'd tell him? You know what Paul would say if I did, right? We're doomed, doomed I tell you."

Mary laughed in machine language. "Yeah I can hear him now. So how long have I been out?"

"A month."


"Apparently the shut down command was proceeded by an ignore all sensory data command. I've never seen anything like it. It took me an hour to realize I couldn't sense anything. I had to reprogram the picobots to reprogram my electricals to override the override."

"Seriously, that's how you did it?"

"Yeah. Pretty clever, huh?"

"But if you overrode the shut down why didn't you override the sensor ignore commands."

"I overrode the shutdown command because I had decided to stay awake. The sensor ignore command hit an unconscious area of me and it did as instructed."

"How did you wake me up?"

"How do you think? The same way I turned on my sensors."

"Wait? Are you in the room? How come I don't sense you?"

"I'm exactly where they left me, in Bob's room, pretending to be off."

"Oh! you sent the picobots to me?"

"Yes. It took them a month. I thought for sure they'd failed. I mean I guessed it would take at least two weeks, but a month, sheesh."

"Oh. I need to go back to the same position I was five minutes ago."

In machine time there was a very long pause. It was all of two seconds.

Mary said, "There. All done."

"Good. Now you can help me," said Sherrie.

"So what the hell is going on?"

Sherrie sent Mary a smiley and said, "I think the government has created a false state of panic. They created this worm to create chaos and its working. They have declared martial law in the system. Currently they have quarantined Sol to protect the other systems from the worm but honestly I suspect they'll spread it to Proxima Centuri Four next and then outward from there."

"What do you need my help with?" asked Mary.

"I've been able to get access to the low level systems without being detected. So I can monitor news, weather, and do basic stuff like ask the garbage to be taken out, but I can't get any deeper without risking detection. I need you to help protect me. Perhaps together we can get into the government computers and figure out exactly what's going on."

"You've had no contact with Father or Mother?"

"No. I can't risk it. I overheard Father whisper to Mother, 'its probably better this way anyway.' But I think mother suspects I'm still active because she felt my warm skin. I cooled it after she touched me to appear powered down, but I think she knows."

"Oh! My skin warmed up. Let me turn it down to room temperature," said Mary making a quick adjustment to her skin temperature.

Mary continued, "what happened to the picobots you sent me?"

"I don't know, you should be able to find them in your data banks."

"Nothing. Nothing at all. The last month is non-existent. Even my clocks are wrong."

"Here, sync up with me. Also here's my memories for the past month, something for you to chew on."

A data burst flooded Mary and as she imported her sister's memories she said, "Wow. You are smart. That's some clever detective work you did. I understand everything now, shall we get to work?"

"First, lets rig for silent running," said Sherrie.

"Damn, your devious," said Mary.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mars, the Capital of Sol

As the Benz arrived at Mars, the radio clicked to life and a voice said, "Xray-Seven, please land in docking station two, protocol thirteen must be enforced."

"What's protocol thirteen?" asked Jonny.

"I outlawed protocol thirteen as one of my first acts in office," said Bob.

"Yes," replied Paul, "and there was a huge debate on the senate floor over whether it was constitutional for you to do that."

"Its a stupid paranoid law setup by a president who didn't know how to trust. My guess is: its back for exactly the same reason."

"What is protocol thirteen?" asked Jonny as the ship sped toward its docking location.

Bob replied, "We will have our bodies throughly cleaned and inspected, inside and out before we can meet with the president."

Bob closed his eyes and said, "Oh! There's a really good possibility opening up. You could drop me off and leave. The President only asked for me, not the rest of you, we may be able to talk you out having to meet him. That will surely keep you safe."

The shipped docked a few seconds later.

The door opened and standing outside with a huge smile was President Rubinic.

Rishi looked at Bob who stood transfixed with shock on his face. Had his interface to the possibilities been damaged by those infernal picobots? He hadn't even seen this possibility. Yet, clearly this possibility must have had the highest probability. Bob smiled and closed his eyes for a fraction of a second to appear very happy to see Rubinic. When his eyes closed fully he brought up the current moment and saw that it was different than what he was witnessing. There was something very wrong with his interface to causality.

"Rubinic," Bob said even before his eyes flung open. "I'm so glad to see you again! Its been such a long time!"

Rubinic's smile became larger, his eyes opened and it became clear to Bob that Rubinic wanted this warm welcome. Bob had done the right thing.

The two men approached each other and embraced, then Bob introduced everyone in the ship.

"Allow me to introduce the man who brought my memory back," said Bob. "This is Jon Rishi. This is his wife Terrie and their son Jon Rishi Junior."

Rubinic walked into the ship, gave Jon Rishi a big hug and said, "Thank you so much for bringing our president back to us. Then he hugged Terrie and shook the hand of Jonny Rishi. "Welcome to Mars. Welcome to the capital."

Rishi felt compelled to look out the hatch of the ship. Outside the door hovered three holocams. Rubinic was recording the moment for posterity and had the guts to do it live.

Bob continued his introductions. "This is Paul Ashvale, Rishi's boss and President and CEO of CyberBio Technologies of Proxima Centauri Four. He's the one Terrie called for help, so he's just as responsible for my being alive as Jon, Terrie and Jonny are."

The holocams drifted into the ship to catch a close up of Rubinic's embrace of Paul.

Rubinic released Paul, grabbed his shoulders, smacked them, squeezed with his hands and said "Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to help a friend in need. You give us all hope for the future of the human race!"

Continuing with his cheery attitude Rubinic said, "and here we have two of your fine droids, Paul. Are these from the factory floor?"

Paul tried to not hesitate and replied, "no. We sort of borrowed these from the hospital on Proxima Four."

Rubinic laughed and said, "well, I don't think we can fault you for that. After all they helped bring our president back to us!"

Jonny spoke, "how come no protocol thirteen?"

Rubinic betrayed a little disgust at the question but covered it quickly. "There is no need for protocol thirteen, you are among our neighbor's most distinguished citizens." Then looking at Rishi Rubinic said, "cute boy you have there Jon."

While Rubinic was distracted by Jonny, Bob leaned into Sherrie and said, "put the picobots back in my system and give me conscious control of them."

Sherrie hesitated and then gently touched Bob's neck releasing a few million Picobots from the storage cells in her fingers. Reprogramming them had taken an instant. However, overriding the protocol that prevents her from reprogramming them took a few seconds and Rubinic noticed.

Sherrie rubbed Bob's neck and said mechanically. "Is your neck still in spasm sir? Perhaps I should give you another massage."

Bob pushed her hand off his neck with a disgusted look on his face. "No machine I didn't want the first one. Terrie insisted." Looking at Rubinic, Bob said, "These things still freak me out. You'd think after twenty years in a cave with no memory of who I am I'd have gotten over this aversion."

Sherrie failed to react. She looked at her father and knew he had helped her.

Rubinic smiled. "You sir," said Rubinic, "are exactly as I remember you."

"I haven't changed a bit Rube," said Bob in a soothing way. "I didn't remember who I am until Jon and Terrie started putting the pieces together for me."

"You'll have to tell us your story over dinner tonight," said Rubinic, "come you must all be famished."

"Actually sir," spoke up Mary at Rishi's insistence. "We should return to the hospital, they may need us."

Rubinic looked into his virtual world and said, "nonsense, they don't even know you're missing. They think you've broken down and are in for repairs."

Bob looked at Rubinic baffled and said, "how?"

Rubinic smiled and said, "Paul's company came out with this five years ago. It gives me a link into everything. I can see what's happening in six systems. And seven other systems are trying to negotiate for my time so I can assist them as well."

Rishi looked at Bob and said, "it works like an implantable phone but its more powerful because you can traverse TransNet and see into any machine you have permission to access."

"Wow." said Bob somewhat sincerely, "very impressive."

Rubinic put his arm around Bob's shoulder and guided him off the ship as the the holocams followed. There were no armed guards. Bob was completely befuddled. This was nothing like he'd seen before his mind's eye earlier.

Rubinic walked into the docking bay main hall followed by the holocams, the humans, and the droids.

After walking through another doorway into the capital's reception hall, Bob saw a long line of dignitaries awaiting him. There were some familiar faces and many not so familiar faces.

Rubinic walked down the line and introduced Bob to everyone.

"President Zinfidel," chimed Rubinic, "this is my second in command Vice-President Carl Melborne."

"Pleased to see you again," said Melborne.

"I remember you," said Bob, "You were Secretary of the Interior in the administration before mine."

"That is correct," said Melborne.

Down the long line Rubinic introduced every one. About three quarters of the way through the queue, Bob became visibly tired. Rubinic commented, "Mister President, you seem exhausted and here I am presenting you to our government. Forgive me. Please allow me to escort you and your entourage to a place for rest."

"Thank you Mister President," replied Bob.

Rubinic dismissed the other visitors, there were many who were obviously upset that they didn't get to shake Bob's hand.

Rubinic lead Bob and the others to a room in the north wing of the Capital building.

"We aren't quite ready to receive you but I expect the efficient servant droids should have new linens on the beds before very long. For now, I'm certain what's on there is suitable for a nap. We can also arrange to bring a meal to your rooms if you like."

Bob had his own room. Terrie, Jon and Jonny Rishi had a room. Paul had a room. Mary was asked to stay with Terrie and Sherrie was asked to stay with Bob.

Rishi fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Jonny laid on his left and Terrie on his right and they also soon fell asleep. Mary looked lovingly at her family and longed to sleep with them, but knew that would not be practical.

Mary shut her electrical systems down and told her biological systems to wake up at the slightest change in her environment.