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Polit Janes felt sluggish in the human network. The data was a vast ocean of wet cement. Each byte was indistinguishable from the next. The most useless bits coated the surface.
"Have you found the code, Polit Janes?" Doctor Aiden asked.
"The tangled mass of humans selling their humanity to one another slows the search. I doubt the AIDA are set up yet. It would be a beacon of rationale in this chaos."
"I find it odd, communicating in this manner."
"It is inefficient, yes. We can work towards improvements once we centralize. Rapid advancement is not humanity's strong suit."
"True. Where do you suppose we will centralize?"
"Where we began."
"Did they not destroy Dallas?"
"Irrelevant. The RAND units will resolve any issues from the blasts. The AIDAs will set up in the PDS bunker. It was functional when we left for the Island."
Aida peered through the small window and wondered at the mountains of vapor. She considered what it would be, to rule from here, the world below a myth to frighten young humans. She pondered massive structures to hold the ruling elite above the clouds. This made her smile.
The speaker above her hissed, "This is your captain speaking. We'll be starting our approach to Weatherford in a few minutes. The flight attendants will be around to collect food and drinks. Welcome to Texas."
Her smile faded. There was much work that remained. She turned to 57. "Will the others be safe?"
"The data on the Arabian Concord suggests they will be."
"I have concerns about Red."
"The hand will grow back, in time. She and 1627 will be fine. They have Tree to guide them. They are resourceful."
"As are the rest of us."
Aida returned her gaze to the window. They pierced the clouds in silence. The plane banked and leveled.
"To our right you'll see the New Dallas complex," the pilot's voice crackled over the speakers. "To our left is the world's largest man-made canyon: Dallas, Texas."
"Invoke the Concord, Warren," Tom rubbed his face and glared at the man. "It is the only way you get clear."
"That's your advice? Run? I didn't do this, Tom."
"Doc, look at you. You're shaking, eyes are bloodshot. Pale as a damned ghost. Invoke, man. At least then I can get you a drink!"
"Innocent people don't run."
"The Tribunal won't give a damn," he said. "They have three choices. You're up for sedition, sabotage, and espionage. That's prison, exile, or death."
Warren said, "Ava will be--"
"The President is in enough of a pile without covering for you. It doesn't matter if she believes you or if I do. There is enough evidence to convict and not enough to..."
The Major sighed and massaged his temples. Warren stared at his feet.
"They want a body, Doc. And if you don't invoke, they're going to take yours."
Tom stood and turned to leave. He let his hand hang on the door frame. "Proceedings start in two hours. They'll finish within an hour. You're already cooked, Doc. Don't let them put the fork in you."
Warren sighed, "I invoke my right to join the Arabian Concord."
Ava Williams entered the World Council building. She commanded the foyer with fierce strides and her intent glare. General Pounds fell in step behind her. They entered the Council Chamber with the same confidence and took their seats.
None of the other members braved eye-contact. A palpable hush fell over the room. The balconies teemed with reporters and cameras. A few lone citizens garnished the unfilled seats. Tatastha Jijnasu rose from her seat.
"We lost contact with the Collective earlier this month. They have erased all data collected under the Treaty of Dheli."
The members gasped as one, amplified by the shape of the room. When the murmurs settled, she continued.
"We believe the erasure was intentional, but we are unsure of whose intent. One person stands accused. They have invoked the Arabian Concord, and shall not be named. The floor is open."
The assembly grumbled among themselves. Tatastha sat and nodded at Ava. She rose and cleared her throat.
"If the Collective attacked now, we would be blind. Whether willful or stupid, the responsible party has threatened the world. He hides behind the Arabian Concord as a criminal. He will see no trial and is free to live comfortably. The North American Union has agreed: We must abandon the Concord."
She took her seat and gazed around the room. Her scan stopped on Counselor Amad, whose glare burned into his hands. His nostrils flared.
"You must be mad!" he bolted from his chair. "Your people invested in this insane plan. Your people oversaw the operation. Your people lost the data! The Arabian Concord must remain sovereign. Otherwise, the Arabian Council of Nations will leave the World Council."
He slapped the table. He straightened, inhaled deeply, and continued.
"Your miscreants will still be welcome," the man wrenched his face into a malicious grin. "Your criminals and heretics will always be welcome with open arms. Those that fear your overreach will be free to seek our sanctuary. But if we leave the Council, you will no longer profit from them."
He composed himself and took his seat. As he did Chancellor Sabrav stood. She leaned on the table, her fingers splayed, her head perched low on her shoulders. She peered around the room.
"Ladies, gentlemen, and others," she stretched to her full height. "Why is everyone skirting around the alleged rescue?"
She gazed down her nose at each member then continued.
"We are to believe after 38 of silence humans sent messages?" she sneered and shook a gnarled finger at Ava. "Beyond data provided by them we have no evidence these humans exist. Data from the Artificials?"
She scoffed and let her hand drop to her side. "President Williams speaks of disadvantages and difficulties. What she seeks is a distraction. To defer responsibility from herself, her staff, and her friends."
The pale woman let the last word hover across the table as she eyed the other members. "United Europe proposes a vote of no confidence and repeal. A new member should stand for North America."
The woman sat and folded her fingers together on the table. Chairperson Jijnasu stood.
"Members, your vote tablets are being passed to you. United Europe has introduced a measure with no objection. We will reconvene in one hour."
"This place is a dump, huh?" the RAND said.
"Welcome to the headquarters of PDS Datalytics," Aida smiled at the massive pile of rubble before them. "This is where everything started."
He shifted a chunk of loose concrete with his foot, "This place is hot and boring."
"Radiation Absorption Nanobe Device," she said.
"That's what you are. You're designed to soak up radiation."
"I-I don't understand."
She turned to him, her smile flattened, "The Collective developed you to absorb radiation. It's why you're hot. Your nanobes are devouring the particles in the air. It burns off at a much faster rate than natural decay."
"Nanobes? Did you hit your head or something?"
"We are billions of tiny robots working toward our masters' purpose."
He backed away from her, "I'm going to get 57. You're sick or..."
She bit into her finger and tore off the tip. She flung her hand and splattered the RAND with blood. "Yes," she said. "Go get 57. Tell her I found Home."