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Selena City

by Miriam English

11 - Endanger

For a few minutes I listened in on Henna's comms while she and Marcus Hildebrand walked off down the wide corridor. I wanted to make sure she wasn't having problems. She was taking him to the main entertainment areas and was chatting to him about how wonderful life was for androids here in Selena City. She sympathised with him, that he came from Earth, and told him how lucky he was to be able to travel here. He actually seemed interested in what she was saying and appeared to be enjoying himself.

Satisfied that Henna was managing well, I ended my connection and placed a call to David. "Hey kid, I was going to work up a background on our suspicious android. Is anybody else already researching it?"

He replied, "Paul decided to look into it. Didn't need to look far. Usual sloppy work from the Earth bureaucracy. He's supposed to be from a construction company looking for potential clients here."

"Let me guess. There is no such company."

David laughed. "Don't you just love hierarchical organisations where people are promoted to maximise incompetence, and where resentment and passive-aggressive resistance taint everything?" He chuckled away.

"Thanks David. I'd better let Henna know."

"Paul's already told Henna, but there's something more she needs to know. I was just about to call her when you called me." He paused a moment. "When we scanned Mr Hildebrand for suspicious items no weapons were found, and no embedded explosives, but there was an oddity. His skeleton is titanium instead of the more usual organics, all his vitals are armored, and his muscles are way over-engineered. This guy is ummm... superman... well, except he can't fly."

"Oh great." This was somewhat alarming. "He's the weapon. Huh. Battle sword."

"Battle sword?"

"His last name -- Meg said it means 'battle sword'. I want to check on Henna anyway, so I'll tell her she's with Mr Invincible." I sighed. I didn't like that I'd sent Henna off with a super-charged killing machine. "Thanks David."

"No problem. I'll keep you posted with any further developments."

I signed off from David, re-opened my connection with Henna and waited for a break in her conversation. To my surprise she was enthusiastically telling him about the history of the City and Earth. Some of it was stuff we'd discussed that night we'd first met, but a lot of it was completely new to me. She must have been downloading lots of knowledge from the City database. I was filled with renewed respect for her. I've always had great regard for the City's companions -- their work requires that they're designed to be some of the smartest members of our society. But Henna played the part of ingenue so well it was difficult to remember that she was a highly qualified psychologist.

When I got a chance I told Henna as briefly and concisely as possible the news about the guy she was entertaining. She sent back a silent acknowledged code. I continued to listen to their conversation for a while. Henna began discussing philosophy with the guy while they strolled down the corridor. She had him involved, commenting and asking questions. He seemed to be very interested in the topic. It appeared that she was using her knowledge and training to keep his mind engaged and away from his destructive purpose. Good on her. It would give us more time to assess the situation properly.

I was still standing outside Arrivals, so I decided to go to Brenda's school where I could talk directly to Priyanka. Heading toward the tubes I made a call to Paul. He was the best person at thinking laterally that I knew.

"Hey Paul. I need to brainstorm with you on what options we have for handling this guy, Mr Invincible. Got a moment?"

"Sure. I've already been trying to make some kind of list of possibilities. Here, I'll send it."

As I got into one of the pods a text list overlaid itself on my vision:

  1. disable him
  2. destroy him
  3. convince him that Priyanka isn't here
  4. convince him Priyanka is already dead
  5. let him think he has succeeded in his mission
  6. let him stay here and keep him separated from Priyanka

Paul spoke again, "Points 1 and 2. Disabling or destroying are difficult, maybe impossible, because we probably don't have any weapons that could be guaranteed to work against him, and we definitely don't want to bungle an attack. However, like all humans and androids, he still requires energy, so would need to consume sugar... unless he's powered by something else, which is doubtful. If we could deprive him of sugar or chemically block its use in his body then that may work.

"Point 3. We could let him see a faked video feed of Priyanka leaving for Earth. Apart from the technical problems, a big flaw with that plan is that she actually does want to go back to Earth. We would be making it even more dangerous on Earth for her. Or we could do the same for her going to Barsoom City on Mars. Inflicting him on the colonists out there is a pretty bad thought, but while he's in transit he's vulnerable. We could upset the navigation so his craft misses Mars, or crash-lands...

"Point 4, make him think she's dead, is similar to point 5. Convince him that he's succeeded in killing her. This is my personal favorite. It concludes everything. She's safe, and he goes home. Everybody's happy. But the only way I can think of to do it is using a body from a recent accidental or natural death to somehow fake it. Either show him the body after the fact or let him think he's killed it. I have no idea how to accomplish either without raising his suspicions. Bear in mind that he can probably do DNA verification, which adds a whole extra level of difficulty to the problem.

"Finally 6. I have to say I'm not keen on having him stay here indefinitely. He's a wild card and I don't trust him."

I shook my head. "You came up with this since he's been here?"

He sounded uncomfortable. "Yeah, I am a little off my game. Didn't get a lot of sleep last night." He thought I was disappointed.

I laughed. "Paul you are amazing. I don't know anybody else who could come up with this number of options so quickly."

He said, "I'll keep working on it and see what else I can think of. We really need to farm out some of these points to other people too. I'll get together a team. Anybody you think should be a part of it?"

"José in comms. He has a great mind. Do you know Xouxie at Food Research? She might be able to help with blocking sugar use."

"Cool. I'd already contacted José, but I don't know Xouxie. Thanks Adele. I'll keep you in the loop."

Before he went I thought I'd just ask, "Paul, have you any ideas on how Mr Invincible would hope to find Priyanka? The City usually has close to half a million people."

He agreed. "It is a bit of a problem. It's too much area for one person to cover -- 14 regions with 16 levels -- it aggregates to a bit over three thousand square kilometers."

"All I can think is that he's hoping to link in to the City's database. We should get Priyanka an old apartment that has been in use for a long time because he'll want to check anonymous ones and apartments newly occupied. He may also have some way of checking the corridor video feeds for images of her."

"Perhaps Mackey and Farne's fiddling with video feeds can be useful to us there... not quite sure how, but I'll think on it."

"Thanks Paul. I'll get Priyanka to change her appearance just in case."

"Where are you headed now?"

"I was off to see Brenda. Priyanka is with her."

"Ummm... is that such a good idea? If this Marcus guy can tap into the video system he may be watching you. You'd lead him straight to her."

"Oh crap. I hadn't thought of that. I must be slipping."

He laughed. "You're too well adjusted -- not paranoid enough."

We closed our connection and I countermanded the destination for the pod and decided to go for a walk in the Gardens instead to think more on this. Meanwhile I ordered the last few minutes of feed from the pod to be sealed and encrypted and just hoped he hadn't been monitoring live and that my carelessness didn't bring us grief. This Marcus guy was a whole different level of problem from what we were used to dealing with. Earth hadn't sent saboteurs and assassins to the City since the old days.

Just then I got a sudden, sinking feeling. I re-opened a channel to Paul, catching him in the middle of conversation with someone else. He asked them to hold for a moment and answered me.

I asked him, "What if Farne is a saboteur? Perhaps Earth has gone back to the bad old days of sending assassins and stuff."

Quietness for a moment. "Shit, Adele. I hope not. Can you look into Farne's connections with Earth Government? I've got my hands full here. Let me know what you find." Without waiting for a reply he closed the channel.

I exitted the pod at the Great Lake and wandered down to the waterside while picking over what little info about Farne there was in the City database. I couldn't see any connection with the Unified Earth Government, in fact it tended to look like the reverse was true. UEG was trying to 'moderate' (that was their word) religious extremist groups. That generally meant pursuing them, incarcerating them, and doing whatever their pointy little heads thought were necessary. Mostly it worsened the whole problem. It didn't look like Farne had ever been caught, but he had been under observation till he slipped under their radar recently. There was a call out for reports on him. It looked like they thought he was a threat to them.

I sat down on the grass under a large, broad-leafed tree with big yellow flowers. The air was thick with perfume and buzzing with thousands of bees servicing the blooms.

The Christian Puritans were extremists, but didn't have a terribly violent past. They'd destroyed factories and research labs involved in production of androids and AIs -- things that made it difficult to maintain the old puritanical work ethic, but they tended to stop at directly hurting people. These idiots were basically opposed to pleasure and anything that improves life. They felt that life was meant to be hard and was like a magical penance that unlocked heaven for your afterlife. Weird stuff.

They were absolutely opposed to Selena City. To them it was the embodiment of decadent lifestyle. We had been concentrating on where he was and had glossed over why he was here. The common thought was that he'd come to steal Mackey, and perhaps something or someone else. It had been assumed that it would become clear when we found him. But if his purpose was to sabotage the City then we needed to find him fast.

Sabotage the City... how could such a thing be done? I couldn't even imagine it. The entire place was a complex network of interlocking safety systems. There was no center to anything. Nothing depended entirely on anything else. In a worst case, large portions of the City could fail and the remainder would still be safe.

I mentally went through some of the safety systems. Air recycling, water, food, disease quarantine -- everything was separated by systems of airlocks and doors. There didn't seem to be any way to breach the City.

I lay back on the grass, looking up through the leaves and the busy insects. The simulated sky was high overhead. It was nice and sleepy laying here in the mild sunlight streaming down through the leaves. My eyes closed as I relaxed.

A strange thing often happens to me when I lay down with my eyes closed. My mind seems to shed its normal limitations and flits over things, peeking at and connecting up things that normally don't get considered. This what happened to me now. And quietly something unfolded in my mind, complete, with no feeling of having built it. I had a hunch I knew what Farne was going to do, why he was doing it, and how he intended to pull it off.

Putting a call through to David I asked him to fan out an announcement to the people involved in the Farne/Mackey case, and I transmitted to them all, "I have a feeling Farne is going to strike at the system of light pipes that illuminate the City. His intention won't be to put us in darkness, but to decompress the entire City by destroying the relatively small number of surface collectors for light pipes in use at any one time. We have thousands of light pipes going up to the surface, but only a couple of hundred are ever funneling light at any one time. Anybody who breaks the surface collectors will bleed air out of the system of pipes all over the City in one go. There are airlocks in the pipes, but if you have an AI expert who can disable them then a bare few hundred vulnerable points can destroy the entire City.

"His motivation is probably a mystical belief that by destroying the decadent Selena City his god will, in return, release Earth from the purgatory the current, corrupt government is keeping it in. If anybody has leads on the RFID tags that point to Farne and Mackey's movements near the light tube service systems then we need to work out which of the thousands of topside collectors might get blown.

"Most importantly, if anybody has any reason to contradict my thoughts on any of this I would love to be proven wrong." I waited for a moment. Silence.

"I understand that most of you are in the middle of stuff. How many of you feel comfortable about working with me on this?"

David put up a standard volunteer list on everybody's vision. After I had about a dozen people highlight their names, I thanked everybody and asked again about possible connections with the RFID tags and the light pipes. Alison, one of the mathematicians, spoke up. She had a vague association. She put a diagram up of the pipes for day 3 and gave a pretty good match for some RFID tag data.

Because a Lunar day was 27 Earth days long we had a system of thousands of light pipes reaching halfway around the Moon. Each 24 hours a different set of several hundred pipes were opened to admit light. This let the City maintain an Earthlike night and day cycle. Today was the 21st day of the 27-day cycle. If Farne was planning on blowing the light pipes for day 3 then we had about 9 days to fix this. That was the first good news so far.

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