Chapter 14 - Systems Down
The Cloud - Book 1 - Part 1
Amelia dropped the tube of nanites and the flash drive containing the source code off with Carl and left with a promise from him that he would have them integrated into AGI’s matrix within a couple of hours.
Amelia returned to her desk to get back to work on the selection process for the adult colonists.
“Ms. Zimmer,” Olivia said. “Your lunch is in the conference room.”
“Thank you, Olivia. Are there any messages?”
“Not as of yet but your lunch is waiting for you in the conference room.”
“Alright. Go ahead and take lunch yourself. When you get back, I will have you start working with Frank?”
Olivia perked up at the news.
“Are you sure, Ms. Zimmer? You seem to have a lot on your plate.”
“My glasses,” Amelia said, indicating the device with a tap of her finger, “are more than enough help for me but I know that Frank could use the help.”
“Very well,” Olivia said though Amelia could see that the opportunity delighted the woman immensely.
Amelia headed into the conference room and immediately smelled the aroma of beef, spearmint, cilantro, lime, and Thai Chile. Olivia had arranged the herbs on a plate next to the steaming bowl of Pho. Her belly rumbled.
“AGI, let us see exactly how much help you can be, shall we?” Amelia said as she sat down in the high-backed office chair and began to throw the herbs into the broth. “Please bring up the top ten, most qualified candidates for each division and place them in order from most to least qualified. Ensure to exclude any prospective candidate with any heavy political leanings.”
“Would you like all candidates displayed at once?”
“No. Let’s start with Flight Control.”
Moments later, the holographic projector in the center of the conference table turned on, displaying the profile images of ten people. Three women and seven men.
“Ranked from most qualified to least,” AGI began. “There is Conrad Lewis, Camira Walker, Weston Price, Jamal Lee, Allen Coplan, Penelope Lopez, Avery Hall, John Roak, Scott Pines, and Jacob Banner.”
Amelia viewed each profile individually and decided on the three that she thought would fit well.
“Please send out comms to Conrad, Camira, and John for interviews beginning at,” Amelia looked at her schedule, “8 am.”
“Yes, Amelia. Which department would you like next?”
And so, it went for the next hour as she sat there eating her soup. She had nearly finished when AGI alerted her to an incoming comm.
“Amelia, there is an incoming communication from the candidate elect for Assistant Director of Education, Kendra Dunifer.”
That was fast.
“Go ahead and push her through on the holo right in here.”
The stern-looking woman’s face appeared before her, her eyes puffy and swollen but her voice even and confident.
“Miss Zimmer, I would like to accept the offer of Assistant Director.”
“Very good. Please sign and return the contracts that I have sent you and we will see you in fifteen days.”
“I will,” Kendra said curtly and ended the comm.
“Amelia, the nanites are 71.3% integrated. However, the integration has stopped and Dr. Ranson is not responding to communications. Additionally, all security feeds have gone offline.”
Amelia’s stomach lurched.
Carl was excited to be adding a nanite swarm to AGI’s matrix and was working on the coding. He had to prep her matrix for the addition of the nanite coding that Dr. Simon had provided and once that code had been integrated, he would add that of the IntelliBots that Kim and Sabrina were working on.
AGI had so much potential. She was learning each moment that she was connected to USSF’s mainframe. It was a shame that she would have to be reset before her matrix was transferred to Destiny. AGI would lose all of the experience she had gained and would be like a really, really smart infant. At least the code for the nanites and robots would not be erased from her matrix when she was reset. Carl took a break from the InteliBot’s code integration to check the status of the nanite integration. It was at 59% completion.
A knock came at the lab door.
That’s strange. No one who needs to knock at the door ever visits this lab, Carl thought, bemused. Amelia, Jackson, or Direction Weiss would have just walked in.
Carl pulled up the screen on the security pad to see who it was.
I wonder what she is doing here.
“I am currently countering the network intrusion, but it will take forty-five minutes to bring systems back online.”
Amelia rushed out of the conference room and went directly to Frank’s office. She needed to let him know what was going on.
“AGI, can you contact Jackson?”
“I cannot, Amelia. Communications are down as well.”
Cursing, Amelia barged into Frank’s office.
“Frank, we have a problem.”
“Yes. I would say that we do. My conference with the council was cut off.”
“Communications are down and so are all the security feeds.”
“I’m not sure but I’m about to find out.”
Amelia turned around and rushed to the lift, not waiting for Frank to follow.
He can catch the next one.
Amelia tapped her foot impatiently as the lift descended.
“I thought you were integrated with Carl’s and Jackson’s glasses?” Amelia asked the A.I.
“Dr. Ranson powered the device down approximately thirty-one minutes ago,” AGI responded. “And Jackson simply is not wearing his at the moment.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Dr. Ranson’s device was at 4% power. Perhaps they needed to be recharged,” AGI said. “I cannot say as to why Jackson is not wearing his own.”
When Amelia finally made it to her lab, she slapped her ID badge against the security pad and the door slid open.
The room seemed empty upon first entering the lab. Amelia saw that Carl’s glasses were sitting on the charging station, next to his workstation which displayed a 71% loading bar, frozen in place. Amelia made her way to the workstation and gasped. Carl laid unconscious on the floor, blood leaking onto the floor by his head.
She knelt by his side and gently began to shake him. When he did not respond, she felt for the artery on his neck, fearing the worst.
Thump, thump, thump
His heartbeat was strong and the blood on the floor was coming from a wound on the back of the head. Someone had knocked him unconscious, but he was still alive.
How had they even gotten into this room, let alone close enough to knock him out?
“AGI, who was the last person to visit this room?”
“Dr. Ranson had a visitor approximately thirty-five minutes ago. However, the visitor obscured their appearance with clothing before approaching the lab door. Soon after the visitor entered the lab, the USSF network was compromised, and all security feeds were cut off. The security feeds will be accessible in twenty-eight minutes.”
“Thank you, AGI.”
“By my estimations, the visitor was a 5’4” female who weighed approximately fifty kilos. According to the USSF employee database and the recognition software, there are only three employees that would match that description, Dr. Jamie Corzette, Data Scientist, Kimberly Quinn, Robotic Engineer, and Olivia Chase, Administrative Assistant,” AGI informed her.
“Is there any more that you can tell me about the woman who came to the lab? Anything about what she was wearing. Hair color? Anything?” Amelia asked, still trying to wake Carl up.
“The visitor was wearing a solid black parka with khaki dress pants and 4” stiletto heels.”
“Well, that discounts Ms. Quinn. I think she sleeps in her overalls, and I have never seen the woman wear heels. Ever,” Amelia said as she considered the information.
“Where is the last known location of Jamie Corzette and Olivia?”
“Dr. Jamie Corzette was located in the Courtyard with several colleagues and Ms. Olivia Chase left the premise through the front lobby one hour and twenty-three minutes ago.”
“Let’s go to the Courtyard and see if Dr. Corzette is there.”
Amelia checked Carl’s heartbeat once more for assurance that he was not in immediate danger, she would send someone to him the moment she was able to and left the lab. She headed to the emergency stairwell instead of the lift and descended two flights before coming to the ground floor.
The lobby was nearly deserted as everyone was either out to lunch, in their labs, or had turned in their resignations. Nearly all of the remaining employees of this building were either going to be colonists, were hoping that they or someone they cared about would become colonists, or did not care, or believe, that the world was ending. She knew the ones that were already selected, of course, but she did not need to know everyone’s reason for sticking around to do their jobs, she was just grateful for the ones that still remained.
Amelia took a calming breath as she walked calmly across the foyer. Julio sat at the reception desk, talking to someone on the comm. Across the foyer, she saw Frank disappear into the security office with Jackson.
“What’s the ETA on system restoration, AGI?” Amelia hissed to the A.I. as she headed to the doors leading out into the courtyard.
“Eleven minutes, thirty-nine seconds,” AGI said, promptly displaying a countdown timer on her glass’s display.
As she entered the courtyard, she heard the sounds of quiet conversation everywhere. Many of the employees had chosen to remain on the premise to eat and everything from whispers to boisterous laugher rang out from all directions.
The courtyard was an expansive garden cultivated in the center of the massive USSF research facility. Six great Oak trees were spaced out in two neat rows of three and completely obscured all views of the courtyard from the upper levels of the building. A maze of concrete walkways lined with yew hedges formed meandering paths that led to the hedged-off areas below the towering oaks. This garden was a place where groups of co-workers could enjoy the outdoors when the demands of scientific laboratories began to become claustrophobic for the brilliant minds that had been ensuring the continued success of human exploration in space.
Amelia followed the paths to each of their ends until she finally found her. Dr. Jamie Corzette was a small woman with dirty blonde hair and a ready smile that always reached her blue-gray eyes. When the group noticed Amelia, their conversation trailed off.
“Good afternoon, Director Zimmer,” one of the men said in greeting.
“Good afternoon, Dr. Candice,” Amelia responded before looking back to the woman she had been seeking. “Dr. Corzette, would you mind speaking with me for a moment?”
“Of course,” she said, getting to her feet.
They walked just out of hearing from the others before stopping.
“What can I do for you?”
“Dr. Corzette, how long have you been in the courtyard? Have you left for any reason since you came up here?”
“No. I have been here for nearly an hour. Why do you ask?”
“No reason. I apologize for interrupting your lunch,” Amelia said, a knot forming in the pit of her belly as she quickly walked away leaving the woman standing there confused.
Amelia looked at the countdown that AGI had placed on her display. It read 0:02:59.
“Amelia, there may be an issue with resetting the systems.”
Amelia stopped in her tracks.
“President Simmons, we are on schedule for the first launch in three weeks. Director Zimmer will be going with the first group and my counterpart at Luna Orbital has assured me that accommodations have been prepared.” Frank said in answer to the President’s question.
“I have been informed that nearly all of the candidates that I have passed to you have been rejected as applicants,” Prime Minister Stepan Ivanov said in his thick accent.
“Prime Minister, there is very limited space on Destiny. We must select only those that surpass expectations. I informed everyone when we began the selection process that each candidate must be able to perform in more than a single role if they are to be chosen. Additionally, NO,” and Frank looked around at each of the Council members to drive home the point he was about to make, “candidate with political ties will be chosen.”
The council members all began to talk at once.
“ENOUGH,” Frank said loud enough to get their attention. “When you all put ME in command of the UMC: Destiny while we were on the ground, you all agreed that my word was final. This voyage through space, to another planet, will be long and difficult enough as it is without the colonists fighting over who is in charge. Strict protocols and an even stricter command structure will need to be followed to ensure the safety of all those on board.”
The council members nodded their heads in reluctant agreement.
“The following individuals have been chosen as the Assistant Directors of Destiny.”
Before Frank could begin to read off the list, every council member’s visage winked out.
What the hell?
“Frank, we have a problem,” Amelia said seconds later when she burst through his office door.
“Yes. I would say that we do. My conference with the council was cut off.”
“Communications are down and so are all the security feeds.”
“I’m not sure but I’m about to find out,” she said before turning on her heels and rushing back out.
Frank grabbed his coat and left his office heading towards the lift when he saw the lift close behind Amelia. Changing direction, mid-step, he headed to the stairwell and descended to the conference floor. Katie and Anna were in their room watching a holovid and eating popcorn. Two men from Jackson’s team were stationed at the door looking bored but attentive.
“Corlyn, Davi, how are things down here?”
“Everything is quiet,” Corlyn said.
“Can you contact Jackson for me?”
Corlyn pressed the finger to his wrist chrono.
“Serg?” he tried again.
Still no answer.
“You two stay at your post. Do not leave for any reason. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sir,” they both said in unison.
Frank caught the lift this time, taking it to the ground floor where the security station was. As he walked past the reception desk, Julio waved him over
“Good afternoon, Director Wiess, do you know why I cannot send or receive comms?” he asked in a dramatic whisper. Julio was a very eccentric personality around USSF with all of the more dure and serious doctors, scholars, and engineers.
“Good afternoon, Julio,” Frank greeted him normally but then dropped his voice to a whisper. “Unfortunately, our systems are down and there is no communication at the moment.”
Julio, ever the dramatic one, placed a hand on his chest with a look of pure astonishment on his face.
“Do me a favor and pretend that nothing is wrong. Will you?”
“Of course, Director,” Julio said, dropping the dramatic pose instantly. “Hold on a moment, I’m receiving a comm.”
Julio winked at Frank and began speaking to no one over the comm’s headset about appointments. Frank rolled his eyes and turned towards the security stations where Jackson and his team were quietly scrambling to figure out what was going on.
“Frank, Sir, the security,” Jackson began.
“I know. How are we getting the systems back online?” Frank said, cutting him off.
“I have our Cybersecurity analyst on it now and I have dispatched our entire security team to secure the building.”
“Very good,” Frank said, looking back at the lobby. Then he noticed that Corlyn and Davi were stepping out of the lifts, Katie, and Anna in tow.
The group headed straight for him.
“I told you not to leave your post,” Frank hissed angrily.
“Sir, when we checked on them, Davi noticed that the indicator light on the collars had gone off. Sir, I think that whatever is disrupting our systems has inadvertently disrupted the signal between the collars and whatever is controlling them.”
Frank took a closer look at the collars and the lights were, indeed, off.
“Take them into the office. Let’s see if we can remove them.”
They led the girls into the office and had them sit down in two of the high-backed, office chairs that were a staple in the building. Frank searched the delicate collar around Katie’s neck for a release clasp and found it. Unfortunately, the clasp required a key to unlock it.
“Look,” Frank said, pointing to the strange looking keyhole. “It doesn’t look like a lock that can be picked.”
“Bolt cutters might work,” Jackson suggested.
“Do you have bolt cutters?”
Jackson thought for a minute.
“No… but we might be about to find something in the Robotics Lab.”
Jackson went to the door and motioned Davi to him.
“Go to Robotics. See if you can find something that is small that can cut through metal. It need to be small enough to fit between their neck and the collar without harming them.”
“Yes, Serg,” Davi said, taking off toward the stairwell at a brisk pace.
“Grandpa, will you really be able to get it off?” Katie asked, hopefully.
“We are going to try.”
Davi returned about fifteen minutes later with a pair of cline-snips in his hand.
“What took so long man?” Jackson snapped.
“That lab is a mess. It looked like someone had ransacked the place,” Davi reported.
“We will figure it out when we get these things off.”
“The disturbance in the network has also disconnected control of the collars that Katie Wiess and Anna Becker wear around their necks. As soon as the network restores, so too, will the connection to the collars.”
“How is that an issue? Just pause your efforts to restore the networks until I can inform Frank and Jackson and we can get them off.”
“I am sorry, Amelia, the process is nearly complete.”
Amelia looked across the lobby, where she had last seen Frank speaking with Jackson. The door to the office behind the security desk was cracked open. The countdown on her display read 0:00:53s. Amelia sprinted through the lobby and barged into the office. Frank, Jackson, and the girls were all there. They had already figured it out and were trying to get the collars off.
Her display now read 0:00:11s.
“You have 11 seconds to get those collars off and away from their necks before the systems are up and control of the collars are returned,” Amelia warned.
Frank squeezed harder on the snips and the collar came free. He handed the snips to Jackson who quickly but gingerly went to work on Anna’s. The click of the metal being cut sounded a moment before the red light flickered on and a tiny needle ejected from a small compartment. Jackson carefully pried the device away from Anna’s delicate neck.
“I want the entire building locked down,” Frank demanded.
“Jackson, can you send one of your people to my lab?” Amelia asked before Jackson started giving orders. “Carl is unconscious and needs to be protected until we find out who is responsible for all of this.”
“Sure. Corlyn, level 4, room 4712,” Jackson said as he turned to relay his orders.
Amelia left him to it and walked over to Frank where he had both girls in his arms, hugging them tightly.
“I know, at least one of the parties responsible,” Amelia said.
Anger flashed in his eyes when he looked up from his kneeling position on the floor.
“Who,” he growled.
With the security feeds and communications reestablished, security was able to place the entire building on lockdown quickly. In under five minutes, no one could enter or leave the building. They began their search. For six hours straight, all work was halted, and the entire building was searched. Their search found no one.
However, when they had searched the Robotics lab, they found that several tubes of nanites had been stolen along with the tube Carl had been working with and the flash drive with the coding for them.
That had been troubling to Amelia and Frank, but they had a deadline to meet, and this building would be abandoned in three weeks’ time anyways. They had to get back to work.
Carl’s vision swam as he regained consciousness. His head hurt and he moaned. He found that he was lying in a cot, in the large room where he had only slept once, that night when they had first arrived.
“How are you feeling?” a soft feminine voice asked through the fog.
“My head hurts,” he groaned through his parched throat. “And I’m thirsty.”
“Well, you have been out for three days,” she said. “Here, drink this.”
Carl felt the rim of a plastic cup touch his lips and then a cool liquid was rushing into his mouth. He drank deeply of the water that was offered. His vision slowly began to clear, and he saw the bright coppery curls of Lena come into focus.
“We are leaving tomorrow,” Lena informed him.
“I need to tell Amelia about Olivia,” Carl protested.
“They already know,” Lena said, trying to calm him as he tried to sit up. “They search the entire building and found no one. They are moving everything from here to the Casper launch site.”
“Oh,” was all that Carl could say through the pounding in his head.
“Get some more rest, you look like you need it,” Lena told him as she set the now empty cup down on the floor next to his cot.
Carl did not argue. He closed his eyes and fell back into blissful darkness.
The next day Carl and Lena found themselves waiting for a hover jet that USSF had loaned them, packs over their shoulders.
“Carl,” Amelia called out over the hum of the jet as it was landing.
Carl turned around.
“Thanks for all of your help,” she said.
“How are the girls?”
“We were able to remove their collars and they will be staying close to Frank until they are sent up to Luna,” Amelia informed him.
“What about AGI?”
“I will personally disconnect her, and she will be waiting for you to reestablish her when you get to Luna. For now, though, I have given you access to this jet. The pilot will take you wherever you want to go within reason. Just make sure that you are at the Casper launch site in three weeks.”
“I will,” Carl confirmed.
Amelia turned to Lena; an apologetic look plastered on her face.
“I apologize for being so rude to you. It has just been a very stressful time. And I am sorry to hear about your cousin. I wish that I could make exceptions, but I cannot.”
“I understand,” Lena said. It was the only acceptance of the apology that Amelia would get from her this day.
The doors on the hover jet lifted, allowing Carl and Lena to climb in. Carl watched as Amelia turned around and went back into the building as the jet rose off the tarmac.
About the Creator
Married, mother of 8, Student of IT/Cybersecurity, and aspiring author in the realms of Fantasy and SCI-FI. Enjoy!
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