The Outside World:
What was Blue and James and the rest doing?
For a start, by the morning after they had 'infected' the underground centre with the radio repeater nanomachines, Earth Watch Prime was forced to the conclusion that Pink and co had been there, but were there no longer.
"Damn! They must have been moved to another hidden site!" said James.
"Indeed. I will have to put my spy nanomachinery into every military, prison and governmental site on that side of the river. It will take a week or two, however. I can do most of it by myself, but there are a few sites where I will need you to help again. But still, once I have made the appropriate machinery, I can speed things up considerably."
"What else can we do?" said Blue.
"Maintain your normal life style, for a start. And also help out with the others."
The others included Rebecca's parents. They had wasted no time in broadcasting near and far. They were on the media and social sites of the World Wide Web, they contacted every politician within reach, and did their best to directly contact the premiers and generals and anyone else in authority. All to no avail. The messages they got back, with varying degrees of politeness and patience, was that no one knew what had happened to the girls.
After three days of futility, there was a conference over the radio link.
[Within ten days, I will have my spyware in all relevant places north of the river. And then, just to be complete, I will do the south side. So, say about three weeks until I am able to search all likely locations for the girls. Until we have some idea of where they are, there isn't much that I can do. However, Rebecca's parents, Martha, and Molly can help, by keeping this in the news and in the public’s gaze. Maybe someone out there will volunteer some information to help us. And Charlie and Janet will keep track of whatever the police might find.] said Earth Watch Prime to the rest.
Rebecca's parents, and Teresa's parents, in particular where displeased, but there was nothing they could do but to agree to this plan.
The three girls:
The prison supervisor was true to his word. The next mealtime, the female guard arrived with the standard prison breakfast - plus three chocolate bars.
"Good morning. We've had a talk amongst ourselves, and we have agreed that, maybe, you lot have been unfairly treated. Of course, there is nothing we can do officially, but the supervisor is happy for you to get some extra treats." she said.
And at lunchtime, when she returned to take away the used dishes, she bought half a dozen books.
"From our library. And here's a catalogue, you can make requests."
When Teresa realised that Pink loved reading science fiction, she giggled. Pink especially loved books about robots, and in particular the Asimov series, with their emphasis on the Three Laws of Robotics.
"It figures!" she said. She lowered her voice "Hmm, those three laws, do you...?”
"Nyah, my motivational system and morals are strictly human." said Pink in return, also whispering.
Teresa, the other two found out, was addicted to reading romances.
"But, these are all boy-girl romances?" said Rebecca.
"I'm used to them. And you know, I don't hate boys or anything. And I really love it when true love triumphs at the end." said Teresa.
And what sort of book did Rebecca prefer? Romantic tragedies and ones with betrayals, especially ones where the betrayed one comes out ahead, in one way or another. She did not always have this preference, it was something that had developed over the last year or so...
They settled down to a routine. They had each other's company, plus some secrets that they were keeping from the authorities, and something to pass away the time. It was enough to keep them sane. Pink also filled Teresa in about how the radio connection worked, and how Rebecca and the others had received theirs.
"I want one too!" said Teresa.
"I'm sure Prime will be agreeable." said Pink.
But the worry about Pink's physical health was always there, in the background of their minds. By this stage, Teresa had been informed about this bad news also.
"But what can we do?" whispered Teresa to Rebecca.
The Prison Supervisor:
But what can I do?
The situation was beginning to prey on his mind. It was made worse by the continual coverage of the missing girls on all of the news and social media. Like for example, right now. He was shopping at the local grocery for his family, and they had a big display monitor. Currently showing a clip of Pink, speaking to the school assembly that first morning they went back to school.
"Those two girls, plus the boys, saved all of those people. Granted, no one has yet worked out exactly how, and the circumstances are weird, to say the least, but... But the official reports all agree that it was an armed suitcase nuclear bomb, which should have gone off... But somehow was prevented."
These thoughts, plus similar ones, had been going around his head for some time now.
"So, what did they do to deserve being interred? After all, Blue and James are still free, there is no effort being made to detain them for anything."
He brought some extra, more expensive fruit. He was going to take this to the prison kitchen and request that an extra special fresh fruit salad be made for the girls.
But what, if anything, did the premier have to do with this? Something similar had been going through the Pink's general's mind.
So much so, that he actually asked his premier about it.
"Ah, not meaning to criticise or anything, but you really don't have anything to do with the disappearance of Pink and the other two girls? After all, it happened on our side of the river, and had all the hallmarks of a highly proficient job."
"Humph. Of course not. What would it gain me? After all, those girls are famous for stopping that bomb." said Premier Johnson.
And what can I do about this?
Molly had asked herself. It was one more injustice that kept going through her mind.
She had gotten to the point where she spent a lot of time speaking to groups of people. All sorts of people, to do with volunteer work, non-profit organisations, hospital groups, fund raisers, in fact any group which aimed at helping people in one way or another. So she always managed to work in a reference to the plight of the girls. By now, she was no longer flying under the radar of the authorities. The two political parties, from their premiers down to their rank and file, knew all about Molly.
"She's beginning to be a damn pest." said Premier Watson, to his staff.
"What a nuisance." said Premier Johnson, at one of his meetings.
With a little help from Earth Watch Prime, Molly had managed to avoid any direct confrontation. So far.
And what, exactly, are Blue and James doing in all of this?
It was beginning to prey on his mind. He had watched them go on a few more nighttime excursions. Twice by a police car, and once, of all things, by a hospital van. Two weeks after their disappearance, he had still not reached any conclusion. But he did keep on noticing odd gaps in their conversation with each other, as they were walking to and from school.
Surely, it's no longer a matter of embarrassment at walking home with me. Even if I do invite myself along a bit more than they would like.
This particular sunny afternoon he politely waved good-bye to them, as he took a detour across a street to buy some more stationery supplies. While waiting on the medium strip for the traffic on the other side of the road to clear, he had looked back. Blue was walking toward his granny flat, while in the opposite direction James was going towards his house. Suddenly they both stopped, turned and started running back.
By simple triangulation of their directions, he was able to work out where they were aiming for.
Nothing there but a pram, plus some mothers further back having a chat... Oh.
The mothers were completely oblivious to the fact that the brake on the pram must have failed, as it was rolling down the slope and heading straight for the busy main road.
Now, Jeffery was not about to risk his life for an unknown baby, or it might even be an empty pram. But, when he was a bit younger, he and his little gang used to dare each other and run across busy streets, just like this one. The idea was to see who could get the most horns tooted at them. Fortunately, they had grown out of his reckless craze before anyone had been killed. But he still had the practice of how to dodge traffic.
Truck coming, plenty of room.
He dashed out across the first lane.
Look under truck, yep, there's a car coming.
He stopped between the two lanes. The car passed, the driver looking startled.
Run across the second lane, slow down, let the car pass, assume the next car's driver is paying attention and starts braking, whew, made it.
Two cars and the truck all beeped their horns.
A short sprint and he was in front of the pram. He caught it and brought it to a halt.
Not bad, that's three toots. And, judging by the pink hair ribbon, there's a cute little baby girl sleeping soundly under the sheet.
Conscious of the noisy and heavy traffic behind him, he carefully reached his hand out and gently stoked the little baby's head. She moved her head slightly, and continued sleeping.
There was the sound of two sets of running feet, slowing down to a walk.
"Hey, good work!" said Blue, panting slightly.
"Yes, we wouldn't have quite made it." said James, without any panting. After all, he was an athlete.
"Well, it was only when I saw you both turning around and starting to run that I realised that something was happening." said Jeffery.
By this stage the mother had realised something was wrong.
Half an hour later, after profuse thanks from a very contrite mother, and free milkshakes all around at a nearby cafe, plus hugging the baby, the three boys had a chance to talk privately with each other.
"By the way, how was it that you were both simultaneously aware that something was wrong, when you were looking away from each other and away from the pram?"
For some reason both Blue and James looked up at the sky for a moment.
"And even then, you both managed to look up simultaneously." continued Jeffery, "So, what is up there, anyway?"
"Err, well." said Blue.
"Hmm" said James.
Jeffery decided he might as well go for broke.
"And, how does this relate to the way that you both seemed to receive news about the girls' abduction simultaneously, but without using your phones. Not to mention the odd gaps in your conversations with each other. And also your night time excursions, where you actually met up with a police car to take you somewhere."
There was another of those odd gaps in the conversation while Blue and James looked at each other.
"Let's walk to the river wall where there is no one around, and have a chat, shall we?" said Blue.
"Can I have one of these radio implants, too?" said Jeffery.
"Possibly, possibly. Exactly what do you like about the idea of having one?" said Blue.
"Well, my social life is now in a bit of a lull, I no longer feel like I have anything in common with the boys I used to hang out with, and, really, what we did together was never particularly fulfilling. Whereas, with you lot, I can't help noticing that you give off the aura of living a worthwhile and enjoyable life. Well, you are obviously not enjoying this crisis, but still. I want to be part of it."
At this point, he slowed down.
"And, you know, well, ah, I guess you could say, hmm, I feel just a little bit embarrassed at, ah, how I treated Teresa,"
He went back to full speed.
"And I would really like the opportunity of making up for it and helping you find her." said Jeffery.
Three hours later, he was back in his bedroom. He set out his homework, then sat on his office chair and swivelled around to face the centre of his room.
Horatio appeared, sitting in his own chair. "Hi! How's it going so far?"
"Ah, fine. I'm not keeping you away from anything important, am I?"
"Of course not. Every implanted radio link has to have a part of my computing resources dedicated to it full time, monitoring the link continuously. So, for a social chat like this, it imposes no extra demand on me."
"This is going to take some getting used to. I can now call spirits from the vasty deeps, or something."
"Well, strictly speaking, only Pink and Blue can call spirits, or rather a spirit, and at the moment she's not answering anyway. Perhaps you could say you are calling space alien apparitions? Of a course I don't live in the deeps, but in the skies."
"Also, good work with saving that baby."
"Aww, It wasn't as if I was endangering myself or anything." said Jeffery.
"But you were, you were pushing the safety margins right to the limits. You can't hide that from me, you know."
Here, Horatio conjured up an outsize magnifying glass. He made a show of examining Jeffery's head. From Jeffery's point of view, he could see a large eye through the ring holding the glass. It blinked at him.
"But, don't worry. I won't specifically tell the others. Although, you do realise that all they have to do is to ask you over the link, and you won't be able to hide your true feelings..."
"Yeah. Hopefully they won't. But now, I suppose, I should do my homework. As Blue said, I can use you to cheat, but what would be the point of it?"
"That's right. Remember, you can still use the implant to improve your ability to study."
With that, Horatio said good night, and faded out. Jeffery set to work, and completed his homework much earlier that he would normally have done so.
Earth Watch Prime:
Earth Watch Prime made some preparations. For one, he built a super deluxe radio implanting unit. Not only could it give a human the ability to communicate by radio to him, it also could use its abilities to access and take over electronic devices. And it had considerable mobility. In its compact form it looked like a large bag of cement, and was as heavy, but it could extend a pseudo tentacle and keep on extending it, turning itself into a long strand of thick rope. Or into something that looked like a very long snake. After slithering its way to where ever it needed to go, it could then bunch itself up again.
It was delivered to Blue's granny flat, and Horatio gave a brief demonstration of its mobility.
"Argh, in actual fact I'm just a little scared of snakes." said Blue, as he watched this snake like apparition wind its way in curls around and around his room.
"Sorry," said Horatio. Naturally he had become aware of Blue’s aversion to snakes as soon had he started the demonstration. So, before even Blue had finished his statement, Prime had gave the command and it started to bunch itself up back into its cement bag form.
"I wish I had had one of these when we were disarming the suitcase bomb. I could have done it in five minutes flat." said Horatio, his image patting the fake cement bag.
"Err, so how is this going to be used?" said Blue.
"It's a precaution. It is quite possible that we will have to break out the girls ourselves from some internment facility. So this thing will be able to get itself into any confined spaces, for example cable ducts and air conditioning ducts, right under the noses of any humans who may be guarding the place. It can distribute radio repeaters all over the place. And, if need be and if Teresa is agreeable, it can give her an implanted radio system, and it will take only half an hour. That could be very useful, depending on the circumstances. And, who knows, the ability to physically access and crack any electronic systems it may come across could also be useful."
Horatio gave some extra commands, and the bag of cement moved and molded itself to look like a suitcase, with a sturdy handle.
Blue bent over and picked it up.
"Bloody hell! This is heavy!"
"Sorry about that, with all of its extra capabilities, something had to give."
At the three-week mark, Earth Watch Prime had almost finished infiltrating every site he could think of, on both sides of the river. And had, so far, found no trace of the girls. Various humans were feeling their grief rising in them; they were barely managing to keep it at bay. And as for the three girls:
After the finish of an evening meal, Pink got up to stack the empty plate in the sink when she had staggered, tripped over her own feet, and fell awkwardly to the floor.
"Pink!" said both girls.
They knelt on either side of her, and hoisted her back to her feet.
"Sorry, I'm fine, must have tripped over something..." said Pink.
"You're lying through your teeth!" hissed Rebecca. After all, Rebecca had the radio link. It might be impaired, but it could still convey basic emotions. Like, for example, fear.
Ever mindful of the unseen watchers, they continued their evening as usual. They went to bed, with Pink and Teresa still occupying a single bed between themselves.
A whispered conversation between Pink and Teresa, and a radio link conversation between Pink and Rebecca:
[It's getting bad, isn't it?] said Rebecca.
[Yeah, another week and this body will start to die.] said Pink.
[And, and, without a replacement, your brain dies, too?] said Teresa.
Gap in the conversation.
[Yes.] said Pink.
Another gap in the conversation.
[We are just going to have to ask for help. Say you are going to get really sick and need urgent medical attention, or something.] said Rebecca.
"Well, once a doctor has a close look at me, they will know within ten seconds that I'm not human..." said Pink, both as a whisper and over the radio link.
"Yeah, and once you die and they give you a post mortem, then how long will it take them to realise that, hmm? said Teresa.
"Ah, sorry." said Pink.
[We'll just have to ask the supervisor to get in contact with my father, say you have a specialised medical attention which, if a normal doctor who doesn't know about it tries to treat, they could very well end up killing you.] said Rebecca.
"And if that doesn't work within a day or two, then we are going to have to blow your cover. At this rate, it's going to happen anyway, so we might as well do it while you are still alive and well." said Teresa.
"It goes against everything I've done in the last few years, but I suppose there is no alternative. With any luck, Earth Watch Prime will detect the kerfuffle when the authorities find out about me, and will manage to rescue us before anyone else can get to us." said Pink.
They informed the supervisor the following day that Pink was getting sick and needed specialist attention. As usual, he was polite but firm.
"I can get the normal prison medical staff to have a look at you, but, sorry, I can't bring in outsiders."
That night the girls had another three way private conversation.
[Who knows, maybe he will contact my father after all. Perhaps he will do it anonymously, hoping that no one will realise it is him.] said Rebecca.
"But, if nothing happens by tomorrow, we are asking for a normal medical staff to have a look at you. I, for one, am going to do everything within my power to keep you alive." said Teresa, as she wiped a few tears from her eyes.
"Thanks." said Pink.
They went to sleep, Pink and Teresa holding hands.
The Prison Supervisor:
Also that night, the supervisor sat in his home office.
Damn. It always comes down to a clash of duties and obligations. I have to make a moral choice. Again.
He had left his country of origin, with his small family, and emigrated here. To do so, he had lied about his intentions, and left his house and bank balance behind. But the old country was slowly descending into an unpleasant political situation.
What irony. As soon as I left, they slowly started to improve. At least somewhat. And as soon as I get here, the situation here slowly started to degrade. And amazing, while in the old country at least they had the excuse of two slightly different skin colours and two slightly different religions, in this country both sides are absolutely indistinguishable.
He slumped in his chair.
Pink really is getting sick. She looks weird, and is starting to walk with a strange gait; I can't see how anyone could fake that.
So, maybe, she really does need highly specialised medical care.
So, maybe, I lose my job and my family have to scrounge for a living.
So, is that all that bad? We have done worse. But we don't want to go back to that.
He maintained contacts with some of his old friends back home. Which, for their own security, he did via web services that could deliver email in a highly anonymous fashion, giving no hint of who the real sender was.
The supervisor sat at his desk, called up his secure email service, and composed a short email. The only things he put in it was the girl's names, the name of the prison they were in, and a comment saying they were deep underground in a highly secure section. He took a deep breath, and clicked on 'send'.
Earth Watch Prime:
Twenty minutes later, Rebecca's father sat at his computer terminal. The screen saver was, naturally, a picture of Rebecca. He clicked on the email icon, and clicked on 'get mail'. He started to read the latest email, and got as far as the first name (Pink's) when Earth Watch Prime, forever monitoring him, momentarily took over his eyes. From Reynolds’s point of view, his eyes suddenly flicked over the text of the email far faster than he could comprehend it. But Earth Watch Prime could.
[Sorry, you can have control back now. I could have read the email directly, but it would have taken me a few extra seconds to hack my way to your email server.]
[The location of the girls given here is in the last of the sites that I would have gotten around to checking, in about four days time. Just our luck it was at the end of the list. Also, it's on the opposite side of the river from where they were taken, and a long way out. I'm right now tracking the source of this email, it's highly anonymised with all sorts of misdirections...quite clever actually... for humans, that is. Right, got it. It comes from the home computer of someone... I'm cracking various databases to find out what he does... Yep, he's a prison supervisor, who's location of work is at the site given. Ok, I've been making my plans as I was talking to you. It's going to be a busy night for the boys. Plus our police officers.]
"Ah, thanks..." said Reynolds.
[Jeffery, this is where you get the opportunity to help free the girls.] said Horatio.
[Ok, what do I do?]
Simultaneous messages went out to various other humans.