The Last Key (8/10)

8: DEPARTURE

The flashing call signal fell silent. There was an audible, collective sigh of relief among the team as they breathed again. Jerome had activated the nuclear emergency extinguisher system aboard Alma’s ship and had flooded every part of the ship, minus the sealed cabin, with heavy water.

“How did you know that would work?” asked Tami, in amazement.

“You were right, the moss is there for a reason,” said Jerome. “It could be insulating the electrical program, consciousness, whatever it is, from open air. But air is pretty resistant to energy dissipation—we have plenty of circuits out in open air—so the moss must be there for some other reason.

“What is great at dissipating energy? Water, as long as it’s got some type of ion or impurity in it, which all water has. If there is an electrical intelligence in that city, it must be dependent on the moss to keep it from dissipating every time it rains. Thankfully, our ships are still on nuclear power, and that means they all have extinguisher systems that will flood the cabins in case of a nuclear emergency. Thank Earth it is an emergency system, or I wouldn’t have had access to it from here.

“I guess this proves it wasn’t Alma,” he added. “She wouldn’t have stopped the call signal.”

“Is it gone permanently?” asked Kira.

“Well, if it is an electrical intelligence, it might stay away as long as it’s wet—but we should assume that it’s not, just in case,” said Tami. “Jerome, is it possible to disconnect completely from any transmission from that aircraft?”

“I can reset all of the linking codes so that there’s no direct line to us, but I can’t stop the general transmission signal from the ship. Without the direct linkage, I’m not sure how easy it will be for them to get through to us, and I can’t even say if it’s possible or not without knowing more about—about it.”

Gravely, Calum nodded at Jerome’s update. They could be up and off the Earth in four hours, and in a few more days far out of range of any transmission signal from Alma’s ship. Thankfully, he thought, her ship was not equipped for space travel—and yet, he knew that fact might be her death seal, if she ever did manage to escape the city’s strange hold. He was loathe to leave without her, and yet if they did not go now, they might never be able to. And he knew the Commission, who would be live on his quarter-comm in two minutes, would only have one opinion. “Thank you, Jerome. Anything else? Bores-up and drone returns in progress?”

“A few aquatic drones are still out in the oceans, and none of them are in range for return. I set them to sink with confirmation.”

Calum nodded. “If the electric intelligence can’t stand water, our drones will be safe at the bottom of the ocean.” Another few million dollars gone, he thought, but so it goes.

Jerome nodded and turned, then hesitated. One of the aquatic drones, AQ-7, had not reported back to base in several days and if it did not establish a connection with base soon, Jerome would be unable to get the signal to it before they departed.

“Is there something else?” asked Calum, sensing Jerome’s concern.

Jerome looked at Calum, sitting in front of the great display that would soon hold the faces of some of the most important scientists and politicians of the Galaxy.

“No,” he said, meekly, “not a big deal.” He turned and walked out, the door sliding shut behind him.

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