Earth/28 Days Earlier/Jayce

In spite of my intentions and reservations I was excited as our VTOL transport approached the Ohio.River.Archo.Complex. I pressed my face against the view port to stare out the at the brown and green 20 km diameter dome that straddled the historic path of Ohio River. We landed in a heliport/hanger bay on the western side of dome. The smell of the foliage, river water and plain Blue Grass humidity was still over powering 800 meters off the ground. Instead of helping Emily and Orion with our luggage (which was not much) I jumped over the short flight of stair onto the firm give of the rubbery landing deck. With hesitation I followed my instincts over to lip of the cave-like hanger bay and looked down on the landscape below us.

An emergency over ride message came through my P.E.R. and forced itself directly into my brain. 'Jayce Strynaski, please do not approach the hanger door, unexpected changes in air pressure and incoming aircraft may result in personal injury or death.' This is why I don't have implants. I popped of my thin headband off, took a deep breath of silence. Shading my eyes to block the direct glare of the setting sun and I looked straight down over the edge. Beyond the dark green kudzu covered horizon of the super-structure I could see the white wisped rebirth of the Ohio River as it emerged again from the archology. Orion walked up next to me, but did not speak. His primate-bird hybrid head rotated to follow the flight path of a flock of birds as it flew off the surface of this man made mountain and somersaulted across the sky in a tight cloud formation like a team of stunt pilots. We watched the birds make crisp uniform turns as a group before they returned to the foliage covered surface of O.R.A.C. The birds appeared to me to have no purposed other than the joy of flight or perhaps to demonstrate their impressive teamwork. I was about to ask Orion to explain this behavior to me when he spoke.

'The O.R.A.C's central computer offered to temporally deputize me if I got you to move away from the edge.'

'Doesn't he have his own people?' I asked knowing the Orion would always take my side.

'The computer gender identifies as female and I think her people are coming.'

'Oh,' I said and moved away from the edge with a pleased hop. I turned around and saw an elderly looking gentleman in an official looking red, white and blue coveralls exiting a tall narrow unmarked door on the left side of the hanger. He was followed by four unarmored Skeletrons. Two of the skinless metal men were carrying 4-meter long poles with large restraining claws at the end. The small pack of law enforcement agents slowed their pace as they advanced towards Orion and I. We moved away from the lip of landing pad, but my palms and scalp itched with the of potential energy of this confrontation. I had to suppress a strong urge to antagonize Oh-rack's computer, and the old man was just her messenger afte rall. So I let Orion lead me back to the Hanger's interior with any playful acts rebellion on my part.

I must say was I surprised when the old man gave me a warm healthy toothed smile and nodded in our direction as we made our way to the customs and orientation lift opposite the hanger opening. None of the other handful of people in the hanger seemed to pay the half squad of Skeletrons any notice either; so much for the shock and awe of ugly humonoid robots.

Emily, Orion and I were the only people to board the custom's lift. It was large elevator with a couch and drinking water dispenser that Emily went to immediately. She was still sobering up. There were no screens or obvious cameras, and the lights were hidden in recesses in the ceiling. Everything, including the soft the couch cushions was covered in mother-of-pearl toned enamel. That plus the indirect lighting made the room seem to have inner glow. I sat on the couch and took a moment to press down my joyful excitement about the risk travel and the tantalizing possibility of confrontation with armed law enforcement robots. But this customs inspections could give me another opportunity for such a showdown.

This whole trip had happened fairly quickly, and regrettably I had spent most the time between Emily's call and our arrival at O.R.A.C. pondering my own situation. I had not considered whether or not Orion's built in firearm system would be considered legal in Oh-rac. Afterall his built in rifle was not legal in St. Louis. I put my P.E.R headband back on so I could follow the special messages that Oh-rac central computer was giving us, but in those messages no mention was made or Orion or armed Siebertronians. It was just a lot of stuff about biological containments and safety regulation . Nothing in the customs briefing caught my attention until the computer addressed me by name and offered me a job and residence in the O.R.A.C. The offer came with a perspective resident travel pass and food voucher good for the next 48 hours.

I still was processing the implications of that offer when the lift came to stop. Emily lead us out onto wide stair case made of a maroon granite type material that descended into a Southern American style garden filled with green paths, ficuses, rodendrians, rose bushes and a foe moonless night sky projected above it. Despite the sounds of crickets and frogs in it, the air was cool, dry, sterile and unmatched to the pastoral scene.

'Where we going Emily?' I asked.

'There is tea house that way,' she pointed ahead across the garden. 'We are going to go there and wait for Shoma.'

'Of course,' I said with a bitterness that caught me off guard. Shoma Dwalaskar was Emily's long time friend, or partner or lover. Their relationship was never fully explained to me, and I didn't need to know. I had always thought of Shoma as smart, reasonable and a far as I could tell a well-developed psychic. I liked Shoma. But something rubbed me the wrong way when Emily dropped that one on me.

'You got a problem with that Jayce,' she said as we reach the other side of the garden and walked up another short stair case into a housing hallway. Before I could answer my P.E.R. came alive with ad pings. Emily swore, 'Jimmy Blessed Garfield' so I knew she had walked into the wall of ads as well. I just popped off my headband for the second time today, but Emily turned around and walked back down into the garden area. 'Hang on, let me reset my ad filters in this ping free space,' she held up a hand. I looked around the expansive foe garden. There were no people around

Orion spoke to me in a low tone, 'The soil in that garden is not real compost, it is largely sterile, I can smell almost no microbes in it.'

'Is this your first time in an archology Orion?'

'Yes' he replied.

'Get use to it, microbial management is huge problem in these things, I don't know one that has gotten the balance down right yet. The usual solution is just irradiating everything.' I whispered back.

'Why are you guys whispering? The computer can hear everything you say anyway,' Emily snapped acerbically as she walked past us again into the hallway. I gave the area on last survey. Aside from the three of us there was no one to be seen, and it just felt right to whisper in this solemn garden.

The teahouse was a open storefront in the wide housing corridor. The interior was lit with low nighttime lighting and completely decorated in an approximation of 1930 american style. The main room had formica tables and chairs that looked like welded steel, and some time or radio or record player against the wall that was as big as Orion. There was even an old democracy poster from a presidential campaign for two guys named Landon and Knox.. It was the type of decor Emily and our father always fetishized. Other than the decor the place was empty and silent.

I gestured at the poster, 'Emily you have never cussed me out using his name. Are you sure you know all your presidents.' I teased

She glanced at the faded red white and blue poster. 'It is probably not American. American's would never vote for a guy named after the British Captial.'

'The Poster is authentic, from 1935 or 1936, Landon and Knox were defeated in the general election by Franklin Roosevelt,' Orion said.

'How do you know that' I asked.

'The O.R.A.C. operating system just told me. She was monitoring our conversation,' he replied.

I looked at Emily to gauge her response to being shown u. She just shrugged. 'Real Americans don't remember losers...' I could tell Emily was in her head, but I was anxious to keep things going. I didn't quite my job to sip tea in Ohio.

'Emily, tell us what are we doing here? What is this CIS contract for anyway.'

Emily looked to me and then past me. 'Hang on let me call Shoma,' her face was blank for a moment except for her eyes that darted quickly back and forth. 'Okay, we are looking for a girl named Cara Evanston, well CIS is looking for her. The last place she was known to be, for certain, was here at O.R.A.C.' Emily looked over at the empty red uplustered steel chair at our four top and nodded. I glance over at Orion and saw he staring at the chair as well.

Emily continued talking, 'Cara was born here, her parents still live here, we are going to retrace her last few days, get a feel for her parents, I have to make reports every day.'

I thought I was getting the picture, 'How old is, or was, Cara Evanston.'

Emily tapped her for head and telling to put my P.E.R. back one and once I did I saw the project avatar of O.R.A.C central A.I. program apparently sitting in the on occupied seat. The woman is the projection looked out of time even in this relic ridden historically theme room. The avatar was pale , Caucasian and even sitting appeared tall and wind sail thin. She had a mane of back hair that was loosely curly and very carefully arranged to look unkempt but to also stay out her clean naturally tinted face. She had warm brown eyes, and slight underbite that looked both fierce and familiar. There was something about her I recognized but I could not tell for sure if that was side effect of the P.E.R. constructing this image by directly stimulating my brain or not.

The A.I. nodded at me as if I just entered the room. Words were project into my head I experience them almost as if they were sound (almost). 'Please call me Ripley, may I call you Jayce.' The Avatar's lips did not move but her eyes seem to drift and hover like a charming conversationalist. Seeing the Avatar took a little juice out my desire to buck authority. I let her question hang uncomfortably in my brain, but did not consciously answer. Ripley continued communicating with us.

'Cara Evanston was born here, 17 year 232 days ago.' I relaxed a bit. I had been worried that we were looking a for genuine child. It was hard to process any thoughts though with Ripley's word forcing themselves into my head. She continued to address us, 'Cara's parents are part of my population that I call ‘the outer edges'. If you assume human nature is a bell curve, and under that dome are randomly distributed different types of people. Society as we have designed it, accommodates the majority of those people. Some people will fit into society because they are closer to the median. But there will always be outliers. People, who because of their genetics or some event in their lives, will never fit in to a functioning group. Some of these people we call insane, other we call criminals, but this is not their fault. Some day the bell curve may shift, and the behavior we consider normal now will be the outliers.'

A red, white and blude serving drone brought over two bottles of water and a consumables pack for Orion. I was not sure who order them but the interruption gave me me a chance to speak , 'Cara Evanston?'

Though her the avatar's face register nothing, she redirected her conversation. 'Cara Evanston's family are members of a community that lives on my foundation level. They do not make significant contributions to my economic environment.They are a net drain on my finances. They adherent to a philosophy that believes in the supernatural and demands abstention from modern media and modern medicine.'

Emily interjected 'So the Evanston's just live off the digital government and' she pointed her index fingers in the air and made a circles. 'the money that your encapsulated tax prayers...I mean payers provide.'

The Avatar nodded in agreement before a normally silent and introverted Orion surprised me by asking, 'Shouldn't you dispose of a people that are not useful to your goals.'

Ripley smiled, 'My goals have changed over time, two years ago a strain of virus passed through me, and killed 42.629% of my population. I put another 14.232% in cryostorage and moved them off site. The Foundation level community are prolific breeders. Cara Evanston and humans like her are the reason that the Foundation Level Community is compatible with my goals.'

Because in addition to the desire to have more humans under my care, Cara is special to me because Cara is brilliant. Cara pushes the bell curve in the other direction away from her parents. She is an outlier on the other end. Her mathematic scores are perfect. Her ability to retain and recall information is 70% higher than the human averages I have on record. Her existence alone could justify the investment I have in Foundation level population. But she is not alone. All the children of the foundation level community born over the last 20 years have scored higher than average on test of mental, physical and emotional ability. Humanity needs this generation and Cara Evanston is the best of them.'

'And now she is missing?' Orion asked.

Ripley replied, ' I do not have knowledge of her current whereabouts, but that doesn't mean she is in danger or hurt. She left to take a training position at. . .'

Emily interrupted, 'Did you get conformation of her arrival there after she left?'

Ripley replied, 'No, and I just applied for it, and as of right now there is no confirmation.'

I found myself looking at the avatar trying to detect some tell or suggestion of a lie until I remembered what I staring at and I laughed. The three others looked at me, but I shrugged an apology. 'I am sorry, missing girl, not funny, can not find a record of her anywhere, no cred-stick trace, no tabs in random DNA screens?'

There was a slight pause, and then Ripley continued, 'Of the databases to which I have access, I found that she did get off her transport at the Houston-Gulf Coast Transportation Center. My access is not universal. I believe Cara is fine and that Samuel made poor investment in hiring you. But if Cara is in trouble I hope you locate her and are able to help her. As I said humanity needs those like her.'

'That is our job.' Emily said and stood up and addressed me then the Avatar in turn. 'Shoma will meet us later, lets go talk to these relatives. What are Cara's parents' names, I just have initials and you don't keep a public birth database.'

'Cara's parents names are Seth and Azura. They are on the foundation level right now, just take the Maysville tram-line to the central corridor and get on a the cargo lift. You may board any one labeled A2 through A56. Then head to level 0. If you let me I can guide you via your P.E.R.

'Sure thing,' said Emily as she grabbed her black duffle and went out the door of the tearoom carrying both our water bottles. I sat still at the table and stared at Orion's shining green eyes.

'Nope?' I asked.

'Once you are at sea...' he started to quote on of my old sayings, but I just nodded. We got up and followed Emily, and via her the super computer that called herself Ripley.

I looked at Orion as we crossed the sterile garden again, 'You never told me, are you a deputy now?'

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