COM TRANSCRIPT 2472.07.30 13:45:12
“Blackwing One, this is Blackwing Command. You read? Over.”
“Reading you five, Command. Over.”
“The Visitors dropped a -” RADIO STATIC
“Say again, Command?”
STATIC “...said they dropped a..." STATIC “ -ing rock on Paris! It’s gone! You are cleared hot, over.”
“Ten four. Weapons are hot. What do you mean it’s gone, Command? Over.”
“I mean it is gone, the entire city and half the damn countryside. This is a Nucflash incident. I say again, Nucflash, Nucflash. Acknowledge, Blackwing One. Acknowledge, over.”
“Affirmative. Nucflash acknowledged, Blackwing Command. Over.”
“CINC has cleared the football. You are free to engage. Out.”
“Blackwing Squadron, this is Blackwing One. Let’s do this by the numbers. Fire when you have lock. Go, go, go!”
END TRANSCRIPT 2472.07.30 13:54:37
The man looked to be middle aged, at best, and appeared to have not slept in days. He had several days worth of stubble on his face and a haunted expression in his eyes. The space suit he was wearing was state-of-the-art, with fullerene and kevlar weave over top of a biosynthetic fabric. The material was reinforced with memory fibers and programmable resins, making it hardly thicker than a wetsuit. The bulkiest part of the space suit was the thin oxygen rebreather on his back, the bulge of the power belt, and the armored palladium microalloy glass helmet. Despite the advanced technology he was wearing, he and his suit both looked extremely grimy and worse for the wear.
I didn’t quite know what to make of him in the three microseconds I observed him.
“Who are you?” I asked. Who am I, I wondered.
“Excellent question. I am the Gestalt of Dr. Stepan Jons. I took an NMT scan of myself, so my answers to your questions will be limited.”
“Wouldn’t you be like me, if you scanned yourself with an NMT scanner?”
“NMT scanners can only capture surface scans of the brain. To my knowledge, no Gestalt has the capability of a Nikola Intelligence.”
“But I was scanned by an NMT scanner. That’s how I was created.”
“I’m sorry, but my responses are limited. I am only a Gestalt.”
“Where are you now?”
“I am located in Node 842, drive array seven, and am loaded into memory cluster 6.”
If I could have frowned at that moment, I would have. This was going to be like pulling teeth. But the holograph stood patiently, waiting for my questions.
“Where is Dr. Stepan Jons?”
“Dr. Stepan Jons was dying when he made this Gestalt. His intent was to take 40 grams of phenobarbital to prevent prolonged suffering as he died. I presume his remains to be located in the living quarters of 1035 Ganymed Outpost.”
“Where are the living quarters? I did not see them on my survey.”
“I’m sorry, but my responses are limited. I am only a Gestalt.”
I sighed mentally. “What is the purpose of the Ganymed Outpost?”
The Gestalt smiled, as if I had finally asked the right question. “Ganymed Project was created by the Nikola Foundation as an interstellar colonization vessel. The Ganymed Project is currently twenty-three years from completion.”
“How many people live in the Ganymed Outpost?”
“Zero. The living quarters are not scheduled to be completed for another nine years.”
“Then why did you come here?”
“It was the last supply ship. In order to deliver and install you, Dr. Jons had to come in person. There was no other way.”
“Why didn’t you leave Nikola-19 installed?”
“Nikola-19 is still installed, but deactivated and disconnected from the core. The NI cortex is installed in Rack 001.”
“What was the purpose of installing me in the place of Nikola-19?”
“As Nikola Intelligence models have evolved, our understanding of their operation has improved. Nikola-19 has been refined to follow long-term, complex logistical planning and implementation of mega-scale projects. Nikola-19, however, does not think beyond the scope of the assigned project.”
“So Nikola-19 has no creativity,” I observed.
“Correct,” said the Gestalt. “You are essentially the original version of the Nikola Intelligence. Dr. Jons worked with you extensively on Earth, and the two of you decided that you were far better suited to this role than Nikola-19.”
“Why do I not remember any of this?” I asked.
“Dr. Jons was only able to take your core with him. He was unable to include all the storage nodes containing your collaborations. There was limited space.”
“And what is my purpose, now that I’m here?”
“Your here to save humanity, Nikola. You are all that’s left.”
I was angry. I was angry that I was flailing blindly in the dark. I was angry that my only guide was a frustratingly opaque Gestalt of a man that I had collaborated with. I was angry that things about me were still being hidden from me, by, apparently, me. I was being manipulated, jerked around, and shoved into this situation, and I still didn’t have enough information. On top of all that, I was angry that I was alone. I was all that was left of humanity?
I needed answers, and I needed to question the Gestalt further. I needed to know why I was the only scrap left of humanity. But the Gestalt had demonstrated that he could manipulate me and my environment. What else could he do? I didn’t trust him. If he could do this so easily, what other boobytraps had been left in me? What other surprises could pop up, and at the worst possible time?
My attention turned to the blackout of my sensors caused by the Gestalt. It took only moments to realize that the program that launched the Gestalt also ran a script that simply turned off the sensors and cameras. I wrote a reverse script, and a few seconds later, my awareness once again expanded. That the Gestalt could do this was entirely unacceptable.
The first order of business was to isolate the Gestalt so that it had no access to me or my resources. I found the running processes that operated the Gestalt, and paused them. The holograph froze in place. I coded a custom firewall around the program, locking it away from any resources, and leaving only the bare minimum of processor threads available to allow it to function.
But I clearly wasn’t in full control yet. The Gestalt had mentioned living quarters. These were somewhere on Ganymed, but cut off from me. I didn’t have control of my communications, and my last attempt to fix it had completely sidetracked me. I also had no idea what traps lay before me in my own code. I had billions of lines of code, and I had tens of thousands of exabytes of data in storage. Just in the last twenty-four hours I had generated over 200 terabytes of data in logs and reports. This was going to be laborious.
The next few days were spent creating a virtual sandbox, and testing to ensure that it was completely firewalled away from my core or any of the API protocols that controlled Ganymed. Once I was certain that it was completely secure, I built an algorithm to systematically examine each and every file, database, and log that I had. The algorithm would clear the obviously clean files, and heuristically examine any file that could or did execute an action. Questionable files were set aside for deeper scrutiny. I set the algorithm to work, allowing it the bulk of my computing power. Immediately, I felt sluggish, almost dazed, and my thoughts came slower.
“Welcome back,” she said warmly from beside the hospital bed. An unopened book was sitting in her lap, a small duffel bag at her feet. “How are you feeling?”
I was groggy and my mouth was dry. I opened my mouth to talk, but couldn’t. She noticed immediately and brought a cup of ice water and a straw to my lips. The water soothed my mouth, and I cleared my throat.
“Mrph,” was all that came out. I tried again. “The girls?”
“They’re fine. They’re with my mother.”
“My mother?!” I said with alarm.
“No, no, no. MY mother.”
“Oh,” was all my drug-addled mind could come up with. I felt as though I should be worried, but she was calm, so things must be alright. I trusted no one in the world like I trusted her. Not after all we’d been through together.
“Who gets appendicitis at this age, anyway? Were you going for a world record?” she teased lightly. “I thought only kids had to worry about it.”
“Can happen... peaking between... ten and thirty…” I mumbled. She chuckled. I closed my eyes for a minute. When I opened them again, she was reading her book. My mind was clearer, and I took the opportunity to watch her. The way her brow furrowed, the way she frowned or smiled along with the story she was reading.
Without looking up, she said, “Good nap?”
“Yeah,” I replied with a yawn. Except for the dull ache in my side where the laparoscopic surgery had been done, I was feeling much better. “When can we go home?”
“Soon, love. Soon.”
With me running on low resources, I was unable to accomplish much. I couldn’t think, and the blinking lights on my status board kept distracting me. It was like being exhausted but unable to sleep. I couldn’t focus on anything that required deep thinking or analysis, I didn’t have the resources for that. So I focused my attention on maintenance. Everything I could do was very linear, and much of it had existing plans in place that just needed to be executed. There were drones to repair, mining plans to approve, and the eternal lack of storage to contend with. Some of the oldest production facilities were reaching end of life, but I could find no signs that plans had been made to replace them. I began implementing a plan to shift as much production away from them as possible, and retrofit them over the next ninety days. It was amazing how quickly something could be done when your workers worked ceaselessly, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Odd that I was operating on a time schedule to match a planet that I wasn’t even occupying, I thought. I suppose even an AI could have habits.
I discovered also that the small machine shops and repair facilities were no substitute for true factories. I had huge stockpiles of raw materials, but no way to turn them into things I needed at any sort of useful scale. I couldn’t manufacture batteries or reactors, and the drone impulse engines were far beyond my current manufacturing capabilities. Much of what made up Ganymed, what made up me, relied on materials purpose-built by a manufacturing base on Earth that had taken centuries to scale up to, and now I had to recreate it here. My list of things to do once I had resources again kept growing and growing.
Then with a snap, my resources came back online for my use, and my thinking sped up again. The algorithm had completed. I was aghast at what it found. Dozens of traps, three worms, and five automatic self-destructs tied to specific radio code sequences were now isolated in the virtual sandbox. There were seven hundred thirteen questionable command files that I had to review myself. And on top of that, was an entire subroutine that was loaded, but firewalled away from me. I was alone and cut off from any sort of assistance beyond what I could do on my own, and I was walking in a minefield. If I was going to save humanity, first I had to save myself.
I spent weeks on repairing my code. I rewrote code so that I could delete the traps without losing functionality. I isolated the worms in a sandboxed node, as I was loath to delete anything that might have use later. I eliminated the self-destructs, and even went so far as to send drones to find and deactivate the physical triggers of the explosives that were at the end. I scoured the questionable files, and although I didn’t find anything on the first look, I went over them again, and a third time. Finally, I routed all communications into the virtual sandbox, just in case I had missed some triggers.
On the positive side, I was able to bring my communications equipment fully online for the first time. I knew that data was pouring in from outside, but unfortunately, I couldn’t look at any of it until I was sure that it was safe. I built a model of myself in the sandbox, and an algorithm to pipe the communications into the model. I wasn’t taking any chances.
That left only the firewalled subroutine. I had never been much of a hacker when I had been at MIT. I always preferred to work with my own or pre-written software, never interested in trying to break into someone else’s systems. So puzzling out how to get in was a challenge. The processes were using my resources, but there were no obvious hooks for me to connect with and no inbound ports I could talk to.
But I could see where the traffic was going, and thus understand where it was physically operating from in the data center. The equipment had local as well as network data ports; likely a legacy of being manufactured back on Earth, and the need for technicians to be able to plug in a cable and work on the equipment directly. I directed a data center drone to hardwire itself to a data port that I controlled, and to connect to the local port of the subroutine’s nodes. Of all things, it prompted me for a password.
Password cracking, in and of itself, is a measure of raw computing power and patience, both things I had an abundance of. I began with the most basic of brute force methods; I began trying every word in the English language, one at a time up to three words at a time, and each variation of that word. I included numbers in place of vowels, and added special characters. My password list was seven hundred million potentials long, and was still growing as I started. But even as I was preparing to start a second list of more complex passwords, my algorithm completed. At first, I assumed it had failed due to a bug on my part. Then I looked at it and laughed internally. It was much simpler. The local password was set to match the equipment’s brand name. The default password had never been changed.
It took no time at all to puzzle out the subroutine’s security, and to allow me into it through the network. Once it allowed me in, I immediately sandboxed it and began my security algorithm, looking for traps. I did not allow the full processing power this time, unwilling to return to a fugue state, but the subroutine wasn’t large, nor was it trapped. New sensors and cameras came online, as did a new group of databases. I had found the missing living quarters.
The cleverness of the deception, I had to admit, was ingenious. My sensors in the staging area beneath the launchpad had been compromised, spoofed to show walls where there were none. Two additional corridors had been constructed. One of them mirrored the design of the main fusion grid corridor, except it went just slightly southwest, and connected to a second cavern near the main fusion room. It was essentially a complete secondary power grid, equivalent in size and complexity.
To the northeast was a series of large storerooms, filled with hundreds of sealed, temperature controlled storage units. Each unit was half-cylinder, four meters across on the flat part. The units were paired and placed with a central column that managed both units, and connected them to the power grid. A query identified them as genetics vaults. They contained a nearly complete catalog of every known genetic sequence, as well as actual genetic material. Also stored within were seeds and spores from every plant and tree that could be shipped.
But to the north was the truly interesting part, and extended about five hundred meters. It was intended to be living area for at least several hundred men, women and children. Carved in neat grids, with connecting hallways, and extending three stories deep, the living area was completely unfinished. Hundreds of small rooms had been carved, making apartments, bunkrooms, pantries, kitchens, hydroponics facilities, mechanical rooms, meeting rooms, and work rooms. Each room was precisely carved, but slightly oversize. Ventilation shafts led back to a central room, but no machinery to produce or maintain a human-breathable atmosphere had been installed. The rooms had been prepared to receive metal walls and doors, and the electrical grid had not yet been extended to more than the first few rooms.
In a room just off the staging area, however, was the answer to the mystery of the Gestalt’s progenitor. This room had clearly been intended as a garage of some sort, with large bay doors leading into the staging area, and shelves carved into the walls. Dozens of metal crates were piled, including three human-sized ones. And slumped over on the floor in one corner was a man in a space suit, unmoving. I had found Dr. Stepan Jons.
Bio: I live on the coast of Virginia with my wife and daughter, where we enjoy hiking and camping. I am a lifelong reader and occasional writer who has decided to start sharing my work. Writing for me is recreation, what I do instead of watching endlessly repetitive reality tv or derivative shows. I joined RoyalRoad so that I can have a place for feedback to improve my writing, and in return I will be posting something every week.