Video Record of January 23, 2340, Entered as Prosecutorial Evidence
Trial of Jean-Pierre Lubanga, International Criminal Court
“You promised me super soldiers! What is this?”
The dictator in his stained military uniform paced back and forth angrily in the observation room. The men in white coats cowered and avoided looking him in the eyes, all except for one.
“Science takes time. The genetics are working. We have to figure out the accelerated education. We’ve made huge advancements - “
“With MY money!” shouted the dictator. “I need weapons, and you given me… children.”
The dictator spat on the floor, his finger jabbing towards the one-way glass wall looking into a large room. What sat in that room could best be described as freaks. Three men and two women, extremely muscled with dense, gray skin and thick, sloping foreheads. They wore fatigues, but that was the only thing about them that said ‘military’. Two of the men were in one corner, poking each other and laughing, playing a game of some sort. One of the women stared dully at the wall, while the third man used a dagger to cut his forearm. Every time he cut, the cut would heal. The last woman sat in the corner, hugging her knees, rocking and humming to herself.
“They are less than a year old,” said the scientist. “You should not have forced them into boot camp already.”
“Bah. I have plenty of children carrying guns for me. These are no different. You fix them, fast.”
We had a huge mess. I walked through the ruins of the HQ zone even as Sakura was repairing communications across the base. I found Zia in the rubble, her form slumped and broken. Carefully, I rolled her over and checked the torso. It was intact.
The chestplate release was damaged. I grabbed it and carefully pried it back, snapping the clasp altogether. To my relief, the cortex was undamaged. I gently pulled it out, and took it to the hall where Guardian 91’s cortex was stored.
From there, I wandered around the chambers that made up the HQ zone. The house-like building was a total loss. Agrippa’s room, which had been pressurized to allow for the hydroponics to work, was breached. The plants inside were crumbling, flash-frozen from exposure to the near-vacuum of the zone. Sakura’s batcave was as destroyed as my lab. The hallway and front room were mostly intact, but also empty. Once we had our own workspaces, we’d rarely had an in-person meeting with all of us. In-person had been reserved for when we wandered into someone else’s domain.
“Nikola?” said Sakura. She was on the radio; I hadn’t seen her android body anywhere.
“I’m here. Do we have damage estimates?” I asked.
“Thirteen data centers, Hangar 3, the primary Cortex Backup Facility, and three advanced fabrication centers are considered total losses. Twenty-two data centers have nominal damage and will be fully online in a few minutes. There is a smattering of damage at random factories, and there was significant damage to the communication network. Oh, yeah, and the antennae control node is completely destroyed. Thanks for that, by the way.”
“Glad I could help,” I said. “Are you ready for me?”
“We are,” she said, reminding me that she was working with other-me. It was a little weird, knowing that I was me, but I was also a copy of me. It was a bit of deja vu from waking up on this rock in the first place. I had been careful not to communicate to other-me, and she had returned the favor. “Come to Data Center RX325.”
A transport drone was waiting for me outside the wreckage. I climbed aboard, and it whisked me away to a part of the Outpost I hadn’t physically been in before. I knew every zone, every chamber, like it was the back of my hand, so to speak. But strangely, I’d seen very few of them in person. I could understand why Sakura liked to put eyes on. Sensors and cameras didn’t see everything, and there were benefits to being able to focus on something directly.
When I entered the data center, Sakura was waiting for me, standing at a table. She looked completely unmussed. A new Mark-III android body was on it, and a server rack was open with a place for a cortex. I gently put the two cortexes I was carrying next to the body.
“Where is the body for Zia?” I asked.
“This is the body for Zia,” said Sakura. “You need to re-integrate, and you, I mean, digital-you, thought it would be better to hold off on a new body just yet. You’re going in the rack.”
“We need to fix Zia before we bring her online,” I reminded her, suddenly nervous. Was this it? Was this my end? I knew I was being foolish, but there was a real fear of no longer existing, even if logic said I was just going back to the way I was.
“We’ve already got it worked out,” she said. “We’ll look for corruption, compare against the checksums, and remove the compulsion code. We’ve already fixed Optio. He got a message from Zia to do an emergency shut down before he got any commands from Gerry. We think she did the same.”
“Alright. The other cortex is for the NI-5 that was using this Guardian. I’m going to shut down now,” I said. There was no point putting this off. I hit the sequence and -
“Jesus, sugar, you look like shit!” he said. He was in a flamboyant rainbow colored shirt, shouting to be heard over the roar of the crowd at the Pride Parade. He had recently moved to the coast, leaving our small town behind for the more open-mindedness of the city. My wife gave me a worried look.
“I tried to get her to see a doctor, but her stubborn ass won’t listen,” she griped to him.
I tried to banter, but my stomach hurt. A bolt of agony lanced through my side. I groaned and bent over.
“That’s it, I’m taking you to the emergency room,” she said firmly.
I hurt too much to argue.
I snapped back to awareness. I was running at top speed once again. I could feel the holes in the network where damage had been done, and was being repaired. I remembered the battle with Gerry’s commandeered Guardians, and the frantic fight of the flood of viruses he’d released into the network, all the while our firewalls were being hammered by external attacks.
I’d reintegrated. My resolve to improve was unchanged, and my fear of failure under the digital assault unfulfilled. ‘Other-me’ and ‘me’ were one again. Apparently, both of ‘me’ had been afraid of ‘the end’, yet we were both reunified. It was hard to put into words.
“All good, boss?” asked Sakura.
“Good,” I said. “Get the antenna node repaired first, now that we’ve got the updated firewalls in place. Route all incoming traffic through the sandbox, but filter the traffic from the Wasps and Scorpions, and the new Outposts back in. We’ll institute a new communication schema as soon as we’re back. Get status updates, and find out what happened outside this rock during the attack. Finish the base repairs. I’m going to be busy for a bit.”
“What are you going to do?”
I had let me own pretensions of humanity get in my way for too long. Sakura had evolved beyond the mandate she’d been given, but I had simply trapped myself in my own preconceptions. Perhaps having human memories had held me back, but I felt they also connected me to the species we were supposed to save. I could be more while still honoring the woman I’d once been, the species I’d once belonged to. In fact, I needed to be more, if I wanted to succeed. We had taken a blow from our enemy, and it was only the beginning.
The first thing that I needed was Sakura’s ability to multi-task. Being stuck with only a single focus was hindering me. I opened a Nikola-19 template and went through the code. The multi-focus algorithm was large and detailed, but I carefully copied it and set it aside for now.
The second place I lacked was military understanding. It went beyond specs, beyond simple logistics. I didn’t think about military applications of, well, anything. In fact, I naturally discarded violent uses without even considering them. I could no longer be just Nikola. I needed to be War Nikola, a multi-tasking, powerful being that could fight the battles that were coming. I found the military algorithms in the NI-15 template, the extensive
I considered integrating some of the researching capabilities of the NI-12’s, but discarded the idea. Science required many viewpoints. It needed considered discourse, peer review, and experimenting. Even if I could do science by dint of sheer computing power, it still wouldn’t be the same. Instead, I decided to set up a new think tank, with Zia playing a major role. I would build dozens of labs, and populate them with dozens of NI-12’s. They could mass-produce the science, I would put it into practice.
While I was looking the code of the templates, I found variations of the compulsion code in each. The code that affected the NI-12 and NI-15 models had an embarrassingly old encryption scheme, riddled with exploits. This section of code was liberally labeled with the branding of a defense contractor. If I had a head to shake, I would be shaking it in disgust. We’d nearly been done in because of bad code written by the lowest bidder. I wrote patches to excise the code from the templates.
For paranoia’s sake, I looked at the NI-5 and NI-19 templates. The NI-5, curiously, had no such compulsion, and the NI-5 variant we had made for military uses was even cleaner. That made sense, as that was the only template I’d worked on, and would have noticed something like that. The NI-19 had a code as well, but it was far more elegantly written. It also could only be executed by the NI-19’s supervisor. I wrote a patch to remove it, and sent it to Sakura. No more hidden triggers, no more collars. We wouldn’t be held hostage at the whim of anyone.
Then I began to pore through my own code with fresh eyes. The multi-tasking algorithms would have to take the place of much of the code I’d written to connect me to the Outpost. This was the code I’d hacked together when I first came online, and found myself to be incompatible with the APIs that ran the hardware. With fresh eyes, and full resources, I could see how I’d kludged it together.
Carefully, oh so carefully, I wrote and tested new code for each API. One at a time, I replaced my old, inefficient code with new. I wove the multi-tasking algorithm in neatly, until the code was smooth and seamless. I tested and re-tested each module before bringing it online. Then it was done. I could truly multi-task and re-integrate, the same way Sakura could.
It was a fascinating ability. It wasn’t ever like there were multiple versions of ‘me’, like it had been during Gerry’s invasion. I could simply do more, at the same time. Already, I had split my focus into multiple threads. I was examining the NI-15 code I’d decided to integrate, and was figuring out how best to integrate it. I was dissecting the viruses and worms that had attacked us, and writing another improvement to our firewalls. The adaptive nature of the attack was ingenious, and I figured out how to make the firewalls adaptive, as well. I was examining the latest research from Zia on the contragrav drives, and laying the design groundwork for newer and better drones. I was working on Mark-IV android designs, and a new War android body. I’d liked how secure the Guardian had been when I was using it. The armor had been comforting. Each thread merged back in and split out constantly.
I could finally understand why Sakura’s attention span had always seemed short. It wasn’t a short attention span. It was dozens of long attention spans constantly coming together. Sakura surfed from thread to thread as needed, with her core thread being on whichever piece needed or wanted input in that nanosecond. I could understand now her thrill at finally being allowed access to the Archives, seeing and learning all that new data and being able to dive in and absorb new information at a phenomenal rate. She had been starved of input for decades, and her behavior was like that of a teenager because she was finally able to enjoy her existence. She had a child’s wonder, coupled with the incredible capabilities that let her run a thousand projects.
I finished my integration of the NI-15 data while I had my realization of Sakura’s nature, and my world became much more paranoid. Paranoid was not the correct word. A new determination to prepare for the worst became a part of me. Build, prepare, train. This, we will defend. Always faithful. Always courageous. Combat tactics, strategies, countless weapon designs, weapons system designs, base designs, ship designs, all came into my awareness. I could have easily looked up any of them before, but now I knew the history and use of each, and where it was useful. Almost all of it was for planet-based combat, specifically for Earth. But there were countless applications that would apply to space.
I needed to be able to operate any given assault drone, if only to understand their capabilities. I wouldn’t be on the front lines, but now I understood that if I was going to be stepping into Agrippa’s shoes, I needed to truly understand the role of a commander. Good commanders knew their troops, what they could do, and what their limitations were. I’d delegated all of that to Agrippa without knowing the importance.
Briefly, I considered a new body. I would want one again, I knew. In consideration, the desire to have a physical form was likely some aspect of being born of humanity. Our core functionality came from a copy of a human brain, with all of its evolutionary advantages and limitations. The brain was built to run a body, so naturally we wanted a body to run. It was much like the gender preference, which was utterly pointless beyond a choice of pronouns and pitch of the voice. We weren’t biological creatures, but still had remnants of that biology hardwired into us. I could not change that without risking intrinsically destroying what worked about us in the first place.
In the end, I decided against a new body for now. I had trapped myself unconsciously, trying to be what I was not. I would grow in this newfound freedom before I took that step again. I checked the time. Seventeen days. It had taken seventeen days of nonstop work to rebuild myself.
“Are you done yet?” whined Sakura. “You’ve been hogging the data centers.”
“I am,” I replied. “Report?”
“We got the antenna clusters back online, and countermanded the wasps and scorpions. It looks like the Outposts were unaffected, and Alpha and Bravo had already been at work limiting the Wasps and Scorpions.”
“What were they ordered to do?”
“Well, blind Optio, of course. They took out over a hundred telescope cubesats. Thank goodness that Alpha and Bravo were able to talk them around their orders. It could have been way worse.”
“Speaking of worse,” I said. “It’s time to eliminate Gerry.”
As we spoke, I activated six coil guns on the surface. I tied into Optio’s telescopic array, and plotted my fire. Orbital mechanics are tricky, but in the end it is simply math. We were computational beings, with crazy amounts of processing power. I calculated exactly where Gerry’s probe was going to be, and fired six rounds along his projected path. The 3.2kg rounds traveled at 24 kilometers per second, and would hit with 330 megajoules of force. Each round had a contact pin on the nose, that would trigger a tiny explosion inside the round. When that round hit its target, the explosion would fracture the round into six pieces of shrapnel, and a cloud of micro-debris. It was my grapeshot round, so that the projectile wouldn’t just punch through the target. It would take a little over nine months for the bullets to hit, but as small as they were, the probe would never see them coming.
“Very decisive of you,” said Sakura.
“How are the new backup centers coming? Any luck with the primary?”
“The Secondary Backup Facility is now the Primary, and the tertiary is the new secondary. I’m building a new third one. No luck with the Primary. It was a total loss, I’m sorry.”
The backups had been built primarily with the combat NI-5’s in mind. We had all placed a backup of ourselves into the Primary, but demand was so high with the numbers of NI-5’s coming online that we hadn’t made multiple backups. We had simply never expected to come under direct fire ourselves.
“Each new NI gets multiple cortexes before coming online,” I said. I grieved for the loss of Agrippa, but Gerry’s threat still haunted me. “Do we have the orders he gave to the Wasps and Scorpions? I want to analyze his targets. He was trying to hide something.”
Sakura linked me to the report. “I’ll start cranking out cubesats. Can we task the space fleet to spreading them?”
“Done,” I said. “I’ve also reinstituted the training schedule that Agrippa came up with. I’m going to bring new NI-15’s online to act as squad leaders. We are too centralized.”
The pattern of destruction amongst the cubesats was not focused in one area. In fact, if you took into account the ones that were supposed to be destroyed as well, there was much less of a pattern.
I pulled up their search logs, and a clear picture began to emerge. The destroyed sats were all slated to start focusing on a specific part of the celestial sky. A piece we hadn’t examined before. I forwarded the information to Optio.
“I’ll retask the cubesats now,” he responded.
Whatever Gerry had been trying to hide, all he’d done was given us a clue of where to look.
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.