When Najiltrin reached her headquarters on the other side of the ruined Yumelatri city, she brushed aside every staff member who wanted to speak to her, barricaded herself in her office and sealed her window blinds.
She knew she had to act fast. TahKedert’s “training program” was obviously such a powerful combination of hypnosis and old-fashioned “brain-washing,” that no one was safe.
Left unchecked, TahKedert would unleash the program on her entire expedition. From there, it would be only a matter of months before he gained control of Bythrahnin, her homeworld and all of its colonies.
Incredibly, Najiltrin’s once supremely rational AI assistant had been seduced — there was no other word for it. The Yumelatri gynoid, which Sevintyl had discovered in the remains of a crumbling clothing store, had effectively reprogrammed him.
And now Sevintyl was under TahKedert’s influence!
Najiltrin slumped into the ergonomically perfect chair behind her glossy, neo-wood desk. Though she understood the urgency of the situation, she couldn’t help being distracted by a nagging scrap of remorse.
To think her android now had a “relationship,” while she herself, as she skidded into the end of her thirties….
“Don’t be an idiot,” she scolded herself. If she put down TahKedert’s immanent rebellion, there’d be plenty of time to re-evaluate her life. She could quit the Bythrahnin Institute of Science, take a fast commercial liner to one of her homeworld’s Outer Colonies and live “down market” on her substantial savings. She’d make friends, have time for everyday pleasures….
“And be bored out of my mind,” she whispered. But enough! No matter how remarkable TahKedert’s upgrades were, or how life-like they made him seem, he was still a product of programmable components. There had to be a way to infiltrate his cognitive protocols and make him obedient again.
Though she shuddered at the ethical implications of taking over the mind of any sentient being, she saw this as an act of self-defense. Besides, if she succeeded, and a legal expert challenged her methods, it would only be in the context of having saved her entire culture from destruction.
“A fair trade,” she thought. But now what? Armed with only the rudimentary knowledge of programming, which every Bythrahninese gained, starting in primary school, Najiltrin knew she had no idea how to regain control of the two AIs.
Fortunately, she and only she had the command codes necessary to summon one of her base ship’s many servicebots to her office. Yes, one from the Tech/Repair bay would likely have the skills she needed and — she could only hope — was unaffected by TahKedert’s alarming Master Plan.
Once she sent the appropriate commands through her private, secure comlink, Najiltrin sat back in her chair and tried to map out her counterstrike. Could she send a twin-channeled transmission, one of which contained a message of surrender, while the other broadcast the viral program she hoped would temporarily shut TahKedert down?
As for Umalunet, if she could not be subdued by physical force, a couple of rounds of lase fire … well, maybe that wouldn’t be necessary.
Najiltrin sighed. Her high-level strategizing had given her a few minutes of peace in the midst of a potential disaster. But her contemplative mood was soon shattered by the onrush of a terrifying explosion — only a few feet from her headquarters. She raced to her office window, peeked through the blinds and gasped at the fireball of wreckage that flared up just outside her dome.
The exoarchaeologist’s heart sank. It was the lander carrying her servicebot, looking for all the world as if it had been shot down by….
TahKedert’s voice, echoing out from her comlink made Najiltrin jump.
“Chief, I just want you to know we have everything under control,” he said. “Somehow, an unauthorized lander made it out of the launch bay. I’m so relieved we shot it down in time. By the way, we really do need to have a little talk.”
Najiltrin closed contact on her comlink and pressed her back against the far wall of her office. Despite her ragged breathing, she tried to get her racing mind under control.
“OK … first round to that mechanical lunatic,” she whispered. “But there has to be something …”
All at once, a single phrase, buried deep in her mind, floated to the surface:
Had it come to that? As she took a second peek at the hulk of twisted metal still smoldering outside at close range, the answer became disturbingly clear.
(To be continued)
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