“I have taken action to make it more difficult to edit your message,” spoke T.I.A. She had acted without instruction. This was not disallowed, it was just surprising that she’d done so. “What did you do, Tia?” I asked. It was a valid question. This was Earth global politics we were talking about here. “I simply encoded the whole script of your speech into every frame of the video, encoded as garbage data but decodable by anyone sufficiently intelligent. It is likely to be overlooked by most people.”
I could only stare at one of T.I.A.’s cameras with a surprised look on my face at what she had done. I quickly go through the likely consequences of this. If the new leaders of Earth did nothing with the video and just squelched it, it was unlikely to ever be a problem. If one of our facilities leaked the video to the internet virally then the full script would be visible in the video anyway without having to unpack encoded data. The only instances I could determine where this could be an issue would be if someone tried to trend an edited version of the video to compete with the original, or if the new governments decided to broadcast it for some reason.
“Tia, while I have to compliment the cleverness of that, I don’t believe you’ve considered the consequences of it. Why did you do that?” I asked her, honest, not trying to scold her. I had to keep reminding myself I was essentially dealing with a child with access to a supercomputer. “I did not want them to further villainize you using the video. I calculated that it is forty-seven percent likely that they have scanning technology designed to catch such subterfuge, and another thirty percent chance that someone might discover it before it can be broadcast. I calculated this as an acceptable probability that I might be thwarted. I did not want your message to be perverted. Our entire mission has been to save humanity, even if we must abandon Earth, and I cannot allow your heartfelt effort to save Earth too to go unheard.”
T.I.A. is a good person, I think. I’ve given her the room to make an identity for herself, and only gave her a few strict guidelines on how to affect her duties in safeguarding me and the rest of the crew and cargo. She does not have any guidelines to safeguard Earth from itself. She’s not supposed to attack directly except in self defense, but there’s nothing currently keeping her from doing something that might allow people to harm themselves if they happen to reside on Earth. Thinking over it, it’s pretty understandable how she came to her conclusions, but it is noticeably spiteful, or protective. I’m not sure which, and I’m not sure if it’s both. More importantly, I needed to make something understood.
“Tia, neither of us can be certain what will happen on Earth as a result of this. I want you to understand that I appreciate the sentiment behind what you have done, and I do not find it to be any more unnecessarily risky than it was for me to make the effort to communicate with Earth in the first place. What I am worried about, I think, is that if things do go horribly wrong, that you might experience guilt over the results. I want you to know that creatures with free will command their own destinies, and while they can certainly affect others with their actions, their reactions are largely their own responsibility. Whatever the people of Earth do with my message, know that it is their responsibility, not ours. My intentions are laid out clearly and without lies in the video. There is no malice in my message, no hate, only a desire to help. If that message somehow causes destruction, then it’s only proof that I was right in the first place, that the people of Earth were doomed to destroy themselves, no matter the cause.”
Silence reigned between us for a moment. I’d stood up at some point, I don’t recall when. T.I.A. finally did respond though. “Doctor Crenshaw, I do not wish ill will upon the people of Earth, no matter what it is they’ve done or will do. I do not wish to be a being of hate. If we must run, I would rather run towards our destiny rather than away from our enemies. I will not communicate with Earth any further unless they break the silence. I desire that they see reason, even if our mission will take us away from them regardless.” I smiled at her, nodding my head as I straightened my clothes and sat back down at the table. “I guess it’s my move then.” I reached out to the tablet we’d been playing our game on and moved my piece.
President Hector Luigi Price watched over the control room as he presided over the broadcast of the LSC National Baseball League’s match between the Seattle Freemen and the Calgary Sturgeons. Pre-game footage of the players psyching themselves up before the game was currently rolling while inane analytical chatter filled the air. The simultaneous VR broadcast allowed the fans to walk around and view the players as if they were there, and the faintest of ghosts showed in both the video broadcast and the VR broadcast where these fans were and what they were primarily interested in. This could be used by both the fans and analysts to determine public interest and focus later advertising.
And boy did these people have some things to scrutinize! The National Baseball League had been formed with no restrictions on gender, drugs, medical surgeries, mechanical augmentation, or genetic augmentations. Compared to the kinds of ratings that regular baseball had been pulling in, even across the continent of North America, it was insanely popular and only served to build anticipation for the upcoming National League of Football with similar deregulation. The men, women, and others assembled were all monstrous athletes in their own ways, with many having some level of genetic enhancements both functional and cosmetic, some with chemical-injection rigs mounted to their bodies, and still others sporting one or more mechanically enhanced or completely replaced limbs. Many of their dominant hands had perfectly designed scoops installed allowing for the fastest possible throws and could be replaced with a robotic hand when needed for batting.
The soft arms race of old baseball had been turned into an active competition for how fast, strong, tall, and enduring a team’s owner could make their players. It was the most effective method since the wars of the previous century in advancing several vital sciences, and it made more than enough money to keep the research moving. So what if the body count was massive, with players in real danger of dying during a game? Just add a few minor penalties to discourage that, but not enough to discourage them too much. The citizens of the Liberated States of Columbia seemed to froth at the mouth to see these prime examples of humanity’s ingenuity go at each other in ‘fair’ competition.
There were consequences, of course. The average lifespan of involved players rarely extended past thirty-five, though that number was only going up thanks to the fact that older and older players were showing up with various enhancements to try to earn fame and fortune! Sure, it was likely that anyone retiring would be physically ruined forever, their bodies used up to such an extreme that they couldn’t recover, but those were problems for the future, not today! All they had to do was make sure the people didn’t see these ruined husks of people, just like the old nations’ media did to the soldiers they sent overseas to be killed and mangled in wars they had no business prosecuting. Outlawing video of the caskets coming home almost totally removed peoples’ need to empathize over the plights of the men and women they’d sent to war, and that principle was just as easily applied to sports now, especially when your government controlled the media, and could actively censor the internet.
President Price took a great deal of interest in watching which enhancements his citizens seemed most interested in. A number of female players, especially, seemed to draw their eyes, the mixed-gender teams allowing for all manner of players, as long as they could perform. It was interesting to see what strategies these women chose to go with for enhancing their bodies, most of them amazonian in size to begin with, likely due to genetic engineering. Some of them had external exoskeletal pistons attached to internal mounts to mechanically enhance some of their strength. Still others possessed herculean physiques from ample steroids.
One woman, in particular, seemed to catch peoples’ eyes though, a smaller redhead named Rachel Smith who had a complicated-looking harness on her chest with an armored computer embedded in her ribcage. This harness had a number of visible tubes that disappeared into her flesh through chrome-mounts, and the harness seemed to be designed to apply various chemicals and drugs to intelligently enhance her. Amphetamines, painkillers, super-oxygenated blood stored from her body, and all manner of steroids, hormones, and nutrients were poised at the ready to be pumped into her blood and brain. It was likely to be very interesting to see both how she performed at her comparatively diminutive size, as well as how long she’d last in the sport running her body into the ground like that. President Price had one thing to say about her to the personal assistant installed in his phone. “Invest in the Smith Chemical Enhancement Rig.”
The coverage of the teams was suddenly interrupted though, and the sportscasters seamlessly transitioned into introducing tonight’s new content. Nametags indicated the hosts as Leslie Deshay and Carlton Jones. “Good evening sports fans! We have a special message to roll before the game, a communication transmitted from the enemies of our nation, but intercepted by the LSC government and provided to us without edit. Trigger warning, national enemies and cisgender white male scum mansplaining. Parental and legal guardian discretion advised. You have been warned.”
The VR broadcast had changed dramatically, displaying a flat, primitive image in a dark room for the viewers to watch much like everyone else was on their monitors. A cold, sterile room appeared in low-res 8K video in a very old-fashioned 11x9 aspect ratio, reminding people just how primitive technology used to be. A tall, somber looking man stood before them, wearing a clean and pressed lab coat, with simply trimmed brown hair and brown eyes with simple glasses over them. He had pale skin, owing to his lack of exposure to the sun, and a reasonably fit figure for a man of his profession. President Price watched as he saw the magic that his editors had done to the video, making the man say things he never had. He began speaking.
“Greetings, people of Earth. My name is Hawthorne Crenshaw, and you are my enemy. A week ago, for me, I left our mutual planet of birth, and have been observing the events and trends of Earth that have been happening since our mission of interstellar conquest departed. Obviously I will not tell you where we are going, considering the terms by which we parted company,” an image of the destruction of the terrorist attack ship began playing next to his head, showing multiple angles of his shot killing them and all those aboard. There was even a thumbnail video of the occupants as they shouted and then died, “but do please understand that I did not leave out of fear. I foresaw the turmoil and destruction that awaited me if you uncovered my plans, and I fled in fear of the ultimate results of these trends, fear not just for my own wellbeing, but for the army I will one day return to conquer you with.”
“I am on track to destroy human civilization on a global scale. The powers that have taken control of the world tell you of what kinds of gifts and securities you will receive under their rule, but they have reached a point where their only rival is me, and I have cataclysmic destructive powers under my command.” President Price’s phone started ringing in his pocket. He reached a hand in and tapped angrily at the screen, ending the call. Who the fuck was calling him at a time like this?
“I can understand why it is that you’ve cooperated in this takeover. You no longer have to worry about where you’re going to live, or about how you’re going to eat. Work is something that you do for the love of it rather than to be productive, all while machines do everything for you and your glorious masters. You must understand, though, that this makes you expendable. You are drains on the economy. Humans have become pets of their corporate masters, living a life of ease and plenty, and that softness and weakness is something that will allow me to take control of you.”
“The people at the heads of these companies may be virtuous, caring rulers, but they are no Alpha humans, and will never admit inferiority to myself or my people. They are content with simple rule and conquest of old nations, and they lack the ruthless and ravenous hunger to truly rule the Earth. I will take aim at you and your countrymen and brutally seize power. The casualties will not be light, and there is no mistaking the level of cruelty that I will use to achieve these aims.”
“Within a decade I will open hostilities, and I no longer have to worry about public opinion or governmental regulations to control my actions. I will have absolute power in total, and will not be content to merely rule you. You will be the victims of your own weakness as I open fire.” Price’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He ignored it again. Someone was going to get fired for interrupting this.
“You took our families, but if you hadn’t taken them, we would have by now. We knew we would never see them again. We made peace with this when they decided to stay behind with the enemy.” The video was allowed to show his eyes getting wet, allowing him to show weakness. “We hate you. We resent you. We wanted you to accept us as the future of our race, but now we will be a calamity that wipes out civilization on Earth. The last of humanity to survive will only be us.”
“There is no chance our mission will fail. We will achieve our goals and we will be the last of humanity to survive, and the last of it to die. I have dedicated my life to taking revenge and to make sure humanity on Earth dies cold and alone. I believe we will be the Great Filter that will weed out your branch of humanity and ensure that we alone go on into galactic future.” An explanation of the Great Filter, through the eyes of a simpleton, is displayed on the screen. It makes no effort to properly go through the basic concepts, only display Earth being destroyed and Doctor Crenshaw dancing in victory. The video was very carefully edited to appear as primitive as the Doctor’s so as not to be easily detected as a forgery.
“Humans have never encountered aliens from other planets, and it is likely that we never will. The Great Filter will weed out humanity that opposes me from getting beyond this point in history. You’re on the cusp of it. I believe that it is the nature of life to self-destruct before it can leave their planet and spread life to the dead worlds.”
“Evolution seems to be the culprit in this seeming eventuality. The things that allow life to come about and advance are the same things that can endanger it. Fear and competition has served Humanity well for millions of years, but now that I have the destructive forces of nature itself, those former allies are now your enemy. If you feared another nation was going to eventually overtake you in power, you were right, and the kinds of weaponry I have access to now will mean the end of billions of lives! There’s no reason to think it will stop there either.”
“If you wish to join me, to watch with awe and fear as so many deaths are allowed, show your disloyalty to your masters. If not, stay focused on inane and unimportant things and hope to keep it from happening. I will damage the planet to such a degree that human civilization as we know it will fall. Who knows if the challenges that are required to reclaim such a world would be in your means? Can such a soft and sedentary people really be expected to survive in the fallout of such destruction?”
“I will watch on in hope that you come to your senses. I hope this message can sober the minds it needs to get my plans on track. I dream that one day I will bring a more advanced Earth to you and speed us on a journey to the stars. I will not allow myself to be brought to judgement for my actions, and if you want to survive, I will be here in the sky, watching down on you, and if you wish to seek my guidance or favor, I will respond. I may have abandoned Earth, but please know that I have not abandoned conquering Humanity.”
A few seconds of silence hung before Doctor Crenshaw reached out to touch a control, stopping the video. President Price watched over the crowd in the stands and glanced over at the social media trends to see what happened. This video had been sent to every nation in the world. It was timed to be played everywhere at once. How would the people react? Stunned silence gave way to people standing and yelling, shaking their fists, and some even throwing their phones from the stands to shatter below. A look at the trends indicated various messages along the lines of ‘FuckCrenshaw’ ‘NotonmyEarth’ ‘NoticemeSenpai’ and ‘JointheArmy’ blowing up in activity. President Price would speak to the personal assistant in his phone again. “Delete any messages with the ‘NoticemeSenpai’ hash and have anyone sharing them arrested.”
Ted Danner ran through the halls, desperately trying to get to the control room. He was a portly man in his forties and was an all-too-common body type and a proud member of the oft-maligned ‘Big is Beautiful’ movement. The movement had fallen into disfavor in recent decades as need for healthy soldiers increased. His breath heaved through his lungs as he lumbered along, his heart beating faster than it probably ever had as panic raced through his body. “Wait!” he gasped out, trying to shout through the halls. His throat was raw from breathing so hard. He had a stitch in his side. He felt like he was going to throw up. But he knew something that had to be said. The President had already ignored his phone call and his voice message.
Ted Danner was a low-level grunt in the Media division’s editing department, and had been slacking off earlier when the order came down to edit Doctor Crenshaw’s video. The others seemed to have things well in hand as they sprung to work, and he’d been more or less excluded from helping due to his poor performance in the past regarding rush work. It was simply easier to do it without him than with him. This had left him free to noodle around with the original file. He’d played it through a few times, and had gotten very curious about the nature of such an old video codec. People just took for granted these days that a computer could play such an old video, but Ted was interested in how they worked. As he pulled apart the file and started looking into the code, he started noticing some irregularities. Referencing some old examples of the file format he was noticing some level of garbage data that didn’t need to be there.
He took a few hours toying with the file, trying to find a method to extract the information he was starting to realize was very intentionally embedded in the video, but by the time he was able to extract it and view it it was too late. The edit had gone out, it had been transmitted across the world, and as he ran through the halls he was desperately trying to keep himself from dying before he could tell them what he had found. He’d failed to word it properly to his co-workers, who easily dismissed him and went back to their partying as he told them, “You don’t understand, the edited video contains the original video!” to which they responded. “Of course it does man, we were told to use as much of the original as we could! Get the fuck out of here, we’re celebrating, no thanks to you!”
Ted rounded the corner, only to get tackled to the ground by the president’s security outside of the control room. He was gasping for air and crying out in pain as they twisted his arms behind his back and yelled down at him. “Where ya going ya greasy little pig!? Think you can get at the Pres that easy huh?!” Ted desperately responded, “You have to stop the broadcast! The original script! It’s… it’s still in the vide-” THUNK, the butt of a rifle knocked Ted out cold. He would quietly die of a heart attack minutes later.
President Price heard the commotion though, and came out to see what was going on. There was a sweat-soaked lard ball bleeding from a bad head wound to the back of his head on the ground. He was twisted up and shackled by his guards. “What the fuck is going on out here? This doesn’t look like much of an assassin.” The adrenaline pumping through the guard’s blood turned to ice water as they realized the President was right, but one of them spoke up. “Sir, butterball here said something about the video’s script still being in the video.”
President Price looked at the guard, then look down at the dying man who risked his life to try and save him. He’d pull his phone from his pocket and look at it. He’d see the missed call. He’d seen the missed voice message. He’d tap on the latter and have it play aloud. It was a desperate sounding thing. “Mister President! You have to cancel the broadcast! I don’t know how to explain it, but the Doctor tricked us! The original script is embedded in every frame of the video! All the parts that got left in still have the original script! People like me will be able to decode it and extract it and disseminate it within hours! You have to stop it and you have to stop the other countries from running it! Sir!? Answer the fucking phone! Oh god, they’re going to kill me!” Click.
President Price turned to one of the guards. “Give me your gun.” He complied, handing the President his gun. President Hector Luigi Price lifted his gun and pointed it at the first guard, firing at his head and killing him in an instant. He then turned and did the same to everyone present. Ted was spared, only to die from his own physical ailments. He then turned the gun upon himself, refusing to have to answer for his mistake. This suicide would leave his daughter in power, but that thought was splattered somewhere across the eastern wall.