Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chapter Sixty-one

They arrived at a large, internal area that was filled with machinery that no one recognized. There were glowing lights on the fronts of some of them. A couple of large machines seemed to be hovering in the air, inches off the stone floor. None of them were connected to anything yet they all pulsated with energy. The air was charged with electricity, and each of them felt the hair on their bodies stirring.

"Well," said Coollege, "we finally found something." She wasn't sure that she was thrilled.

Price dropped from the tunnel, to the floor of the chamber about eight feet below him. He walked forward slowly, thinking that the machinery reminded him, vaguely, of those they had found on the asteroid.

"Now we sabotage this thing," said Hyland.

"Without tools?" asked Coollege.

"We were without tools on the asteroid," said Price, "we did more than just sabotage equipment. We know more here than we did then. We can wreck all this."

"Shut up and listen," said Hyland. "We don't need tools and we don't need to wreck anything." She knelt near Monier and asked, "Can you tell me anything about this thing?"

"No. I just can't get anything."

"I mean," said Hyland, "how many parts are there. How much back-up? How big is it?"

"I don't really ..." Monier and reached out with a hand, as if to touch one of the free standing machines. She searched for a pattern in all the electrical activity. She sensed an immenseness that was frightening. The machine filled the entire Citadel. Each part of it had a back up to a back up to a back that was all backed up. It was redunacny to the extreme.
"Is there anything that you can do?" asked Hyland.

Monier sat down and rubbed her thighs as if to dry the palms of her hands on her uniform. She took a deep breath and remembered one of the exercises. They had been able, with thought waves, to erase the hard drive and bubble memories in small computers. The task hadn't been difficult when it had been explained and demonstrated to her. But she had never tried anything a large and complex as the mainframe on the ship, let alone anything like the Citadel.

"What are you going to do to it?"

Monier shrugged and then the answer came to her. It was right out of the exercises from Earth. "Convince one part of it that another is beginning to malfunction. Force it to run diagnostics taking up more of the capabilities. Cause it to slip and make errors and erase part of its memory. Convince it that part of it is breaking down and destroying itself."

"That'll work?"

"Who knows. If it does, we can force part of it to shut down and that reduces the task. We have to view it as a series of small steps."

"What can we do to help?" asked Hyland.

Monier pointed at the machines. "Smash those."

Price grinned and turned, grabbing the front of the one of the machines. He worked his fingernails under its cover and pulled. The door opened easily, showing the interior of it. Clear plastic and blinking lights that seemed to have no real function. Price reached in, grabbed and pulled. A panel came free and Price threw it to the floor. It didn't break.

But that didn't stop him. He pulled other components out, tossing them aside. Coollege joined him, ripping the front from another of the machines and stripping the components from it. She stomped on a pile of them but they still didn't break.

Monier watched for a moment and then closed her eyes so that she could concentrate. At first she thought about trying to fool the machine into thinking it was breaking down, but then decided against that. Instead, she wondered if she could create a fleet of phantom ships to attack in much the same way that she had created the phantom squad earlier.

Price had torn the front from the last of the machines. He'd pulled the first of the clear plastic boards from it to disable it. Now there was nothing else for them to do. Price didn't think they'd done much damage.

Monier wasn't aware of that. She was thinking of a huge fleet. First it had just been the fighters dropping in from space. Then she'd thought about it and realized that a phantom fleet could contain anything that she could dream up. Hundreds of ships. Thousands of them. And she knew already that the Citadel would register her impressions. That had been proven earlier when it attacked her phantom squad.

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