10: Walls and Words (part 1)

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10.1 Decontamination

AI Records: 25 April 2128

The ground-based units waiting in Hampstead Heath witnessed the appearance of a machine. Photos and video were taken and relayed back to AI where they were analysed.

As the door failed to be opened voluntarily by the occupants, AI gave the order to break it open. Inside, the occupants were found to be unconscious, possibly injured. AI initiated their removal from the machine followed by checks on their condition. While they appeared to be in no immediate danger, several irregularities were noted. Suspecting possible contamination, AI concluded that isolation was a necessary precaution and sent in a flying ambulance to receive the patients.

AI analysed records of human recuperation to determine the most suitable location. Several references were found to the restorative qualities of the north Norfolk coast. It was doubly suitable given that the area was currently devoid of human habitation.

Then larger vehicles were ordered to cut a path into the woods, followed by a crane that hooked the machine up from where it lay and took it away. AI considered the most suitable location for the device. It wanted to move it away from any chance of human discovery but it also needed to locate it in a place that still possessed scientific facilities that might yet be pressed into analysing the contraption. One such location was a mere fifty-five miles to the north, but had the disadvantage that it did have resident humans. However, they were quite small in number and, so far, had been relatively cooperative.

After the crane carrying the machine had left, the other robots in the woods appeared not to notice a woman watching all that they performed from a hiding place up in one of the more sturdy trees.

Their actions, in that respect, were lies. They had not only detected her but had also managed to get close enough to read her electronic designation of LD-f0007.

With two possibly injured humans and a third precariously far above the ground, AI considered devising some way of retrieving the woman as well. However, given past experiences where damage to humans occurred when trying to remove them from locations from which they didn't wish to be extracted, AI finally decided to leave her where she was but to keep track of where she would next turn up.

So, before leaving, AI ordered one robot to drop and lightly bury a tiny repeater unit in the ground – a device by which it would be able to determine exactly when the female moved on from her current location.

It didn't have to wait very long.

10.2 Building The Walls

AI Records / Retrospective: 25 April 2128 / September 2107 onwards

AI noted that this event fully confirmed that the walls it had built were now no longer able to retain humans once they put their minds to escaping. What it should do about the situation wasn't clear. The countryside contained a number of dangers that might result in the reduction of the already tiny human population.

Prior to the mysterious asteroid event, there hadn't been a need for such walls. Were they still required? AI retrieved its own records from the time not long after the asteroid for further analysis.

Back in 2107 the newly awoken entity called AI had spent weeks attempting to herd the mentally maimed populations of the world into the growing institutions it was adapting or building for that purpose. What had once been business offices were refitted as nursing homes. Some incumbents were moribund, barely unable to fend for or tend to themselves. These were allocated to large wards where a new army of hastily constructed robotic nurse units attended to their needs. Patients who were completely lethargic were simply plumbed into a communal system of feeding and sanitation. There, they vegetated until they died, despite the efforts of AI and its helpers.

Much of the populace had a tendency to wander if left unchecked and, initially, AI didn't have enough robotic resources to keep tabs on them. Often, these people could be found falling off bridges and buildings, dropping into lakes, getting lost up mountains and generally dying from a multitude of other preventable causes. Such numbers attempting to wander uncontrollably about the cities and countryside caused the AI nursing units no end of electronic anxiety as they had been programmed to consider human care their highest priority. The controlling AI units tapped into the nurses' programming trying to comprehend this almost emotional state, but eventually deemed it an unnecessary adjunct and erased it, though not before storing copies away for safekeeping in case it would be needed in future.

For a small number of people, the affliction caused them to become constantly agitated. They had a tendency to run wild and rage against any form of restriction. Although their quantity was small, far less than one percent, the actual numbers were large. In Britain's population of just under ninety million this represented nearly two hundred thousand people.

As the AI units converged, sifted and re-analysed their knowledge and planning, they concluded that some sort of enforced restriction was the only possible consideration.

So the walling up of the cities began. Initially AI considered building walls around entire cities but the mechanical robot power needed plus the huge cost in materials soon vetoed that plan. The compromise was to scale down the length of the walls, and therefore the size of the cities themselves, and to identify and utilise existing structures wherever possible. Where no such structures existed then demolition would provide the materials.

AI's initial attempts at constructing walls were haphazard and, in some cities, protrusions from the faces of the walls provided more than adequate hand and footholds that led to inevitable escapes.

The answer, AI concluded, was to employ machines to laboriously grind down any such imperfections until an unscalable surface resulted. With later walls, AI made sure that the insides were adequately smooth from the outset.

So, over the course of three years, the cities were walled in and, in some cases, divided up into controlled sections. The wanderers, as the AI termed those humans who were afflicted with the constant agitation, were let out here and there to ramble about in a specially prepared section stripped of potential danger.

They charged about uncaring, knocking into objects and buildings, falling down and lying where they fell for a while before returning to activity and running about yet again. Dressed by AI in padded, protective suits from which they no longer had the wit to escape, the injuries were thankfully few. Their temporary freedom allowed then to release their pent up energies and return to their wards exhausted. Without such occasional forays they wrestled and clawed at each other in uncontrolled viciousness, unworried about the injuries such actions would entail.

But a tiny minority still managed to escape. Those whose previous skills had become second nature to them still unconsciously put those skills to use. A locksmith could not stop being a locksmith and a locked door could soon become unlocked even though he no longer understood the reasons behind his actions. With an escape route opened others would follow, hardly comprehending what they were doing or where they were headed.

Greater security was tried but had a debilitating effect upon those so restricted and accelerated their retreat into complete lethargy and eventual death. So the security levels were diminished and AI started to utilise the network of existing closed circuit security systems, and to place new ones in strategic locations in order to perform an almost daily round up of strays.

AI also devised and constructed the wall-mounted tracks and camera vehicles. Where greater manoeuvrability was required, it utilised cameras on flying drones, though these required more direct control and resources. A rail-mounted camera buggy only triggered the need for a higher intellectual intervention if it registered something unusual.

While all these precautions were aimed at the humans afflicted by the asteroid event, they weren't the only ones under AI care. A balance had to be struck between the needs of the old and the young – the new generation, some still hardly more than babies, were causing their own problems.

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