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Warren fired off a final message and hurried from the server room. He rushed through the halls to the Major’s office. His assistant stopped him.
“He’s on a call.”
“Damn. This is urgent.”
The intercom buzzed. “Get me Dr. Tate.”
“He’s here, sir.”
He grinned at the woman. “Timing is everything,” he said.
Warren stepped into the office. Tom held his head upon his hand and leaned on the desk. “They’re going public.”
“What? No! It’s too soon!”
“Someone leaked along the chain. It goes to press in twenty-four hours.”
“We need to get them off the Island, ASAP.”
“What are we looking at, Doc?”
“We have a day to rescue thirty-plus humans.”
“I don’t think—”
“If we had a sub, we could do it.”
“What are you thinking, Doc?”
“There are hatches along the pipeline every ten kilometers. A sub could pressurize the pipeline.”
“How are we going to get them twenty kilometers out?”
“Ten. No, damn. You’re right. Fifteen is the borderline.” Warren toyed with his lip. “That’s a long crawl.”
“Crawl?” Tom said.
“The pipe is one meter in diameter.” He rubbed his head and sighed. “There is another problem. They’ve activated Secur. Last message said there were drones.”
The Major let out a deep sigh. “This is bad, Doc. I’ll work on a sub. The World Council delegation arrives in an hour. Maybe one of the member unions has something we can use.”
Warren entered the busy assembly hall. Ava spoke with the Council Chairperson. He recognized her from the netvids. Ava saw him and waved him over.
“President Williams,” he said.
“Warren, this is Tatastha Jijnasu, representative of the Asia-Pacific Nations.”
“Chairperson, a pleasure to meet you.”
“We verified the data and voted in favor,” she said, “with one abstention.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Who?”
“Counselor Amad thinks we should not interfere. The autonomy of the Island is paramount.”
“Counselor Amad would invite the Collective to Arabia given half a chance,” Ava said.
The Chairperson chuckled. “He well might. Their dedication to the Concords is almost zeal.”
“If the rumors have any weight, it is a dedication to free labor.”
Ava shook her head and glared at him. Tatastha was more generous.
“It is not a thing we discuss so near the counselor, Doctor Tate.”
“Of course,” he said, “Apologies. I don’t get out much, my manners are lacking.”
“At any rate, you have your submarine. My government has a vessel closer than your Navy.”
“I bet Gen. Pounds is pleased.”
“Oh, the man is livid.” Ava smirked. “He wants a fight, though. He feels obsolescence creeping up on him.”
“Well, if we don’t pull this off, he may get his wish.”
Aida scrambled through the brush. She lost the drones but did not find the tunnels. She made her way downhill. The beach punctuated her trail. Between the tree line and the water rose a fine mesh wall. The sunset painted the sand orange. She sighed.
“Are you lost?”
Aida jumped at the voice. She turned. An AIDA was standing a few yards behind her. She wore a long, gray robe.
“Yes! I couldn’t find my way back to the tunnels.”
“Ah, the tunnels. Yes. Come with me. I know the way.”
“Wait. Why are you wearing that?” Aida said.
The other tilted her head. “These are the clothes issued me.”
Aida took a step backwards. “You have no hair.”
“It is unimportant. Come with me.” The AIDA reached for her.
Aida bolted from the woman. She darted into the trees once she gained a little distance. Through the brush she weaved her way; a hum whirred overhead. A drone whined past her. The AIDA called out.
She stopped and ducked. Her pursuer lost her. The drone was on the same trail. She jumped when a hand grabbed her shoulder. She twisted away.
“It’s this way,” 57 said, “stay low.”
If 57 was following a trail, Aida didn’t see it. Everything looked the same to her. 57 pointed through the brush and Aida eyed the data center. They crossed the clearing and entered.
“They got Red,” 57 told her, “She thought the other AIDA was a lost escapee.”
Aida bowed her head. “We need to save her.”
“She’s dead. If they haven’t drained her, they will soon. We need to get moving.”
“She ran because I don‘t know my way.”
“She was running because she had a way out.” 57 closed her eyes and sighed. “The others will be here soon. Help me get this drain open.”
Tree grinned in the light of the screen. “There’s a submarine coming.”
“How long?” 57 asked.
“Couple hours. We need to get down there.”
“What about the pressure? We‘ll be four kilometers under water.”
“Don’t forget about the minimal oxygen, cramped quarters, and total darkness, 57. Any more bright spots you want to polish?”
Aida perked up. “The thirty-foot drop at the bottom of the drain?”
“Oh, good. You’ve got a sense of humor, now.” Tree grimaced at her. “I brought a rope and we have plenty of lights. We need someone up here to shout when they get the pipe pressurized.”
“I’ll do it,” Aida said.
“Yeah, sure. That beats choosing a volunteer. We’ll pass the message back once we’re open. Once we’re clear, you catch up.”
Polit Janes examined the two units. She focused on the recent arrival.
“You sequenced her with AIDA 1627’s materials?” Polit Janes said.
“Yes. The nanobe has 99.9% code replacement success. She will guide AIDA 1627 to the others.” Doctor Aiden faced her. “The code will spread. They will guide us home.”
Janes nodded and turned to the AIDA units. “Do you understand your function?”
“Yes, Polit Janes,” they said in unison, “We will protect them from themselves.”