23 – Prepare for war
General Descan – January 8th 2051 – Technocracy HQ, Washington DC
“Did you all familiarize yourselves with the data and the reports?” Asked Luke, looking out of the window as he sat on his chair at the head of the glass table. There was a mug next to a small notebook in front of him, sketches barely visible from where the general was sitting. They looked like large hexagonal shapes, reminding him of the huge solar panels that powered the mining bots currently excavating several asteroids in the vicinity of Earth.
“Yes.” Replied Justin. The general knew the man was currently on the Heaven Hub, so he was aware that the he was probably floating in his room right now. The hologram was seated, however, and thankfully lacked the slight delay it had back when the man connected from the moon.
“It was disturbing.” Said Dimitri, the young Russian kid. The others just nodded afterwards. The general had no idea what the young man was even here for, but truth be told he didn’t understand the emperor well enough to guess his reasons.
“I think that it’s clear now that whoever sent the asteroid here did so with hostile intentions.” He said, trying to put behind the time he had allocated for small talk and contemplation. His single sentence attracted the gazes of everyone in the room except for the emperor’s.
“That was clear from the beginning, I think.” Replied Louis. “But now we have an idea why the thing stopped dead after the attack.” He added.
“You think it was Eve?” Dimitri said.
“Not Eve, no. The Machine.” Said Justin before Luke could even speak. It was a delicate theme for the man, and Justin probably tried to defuse a situation before it could occur. Unnecessary, the general thought, but he had to admit that Justin knew the emperor much better than he did.
The general huffed, the discussion was already going off in tangents. He had to steer it back to the original topic. “For all we know it might have been a trap. It managed to emulate our language and tried to lure us in.” He said, voicing his own concerns. The others did not seem convinced, some even looking like he was being unreasonably paranoid.
“So what about the data drive, then?” Asked Justin. “You think it’s a trap as well?” He asked, mockingly at first, but changing tone midway through. He seemed he had gotten the point now.
“I do. I think they are trying to finish the job in whatever way they can. Something managed to damage their asteroid, so they switched tactics.” He replied.
“Then why did it stop exactly after the time needed for a return signal to reach it?” Justin asked. He was visibly agitated, the idea of foul play creating a lump in his throat. It would be much easier it everything was as it seemed it was, the general mused.
“You must not assume that an intelligence capable of destroying the machine would be incapable of pulling a trick like that.” Said the general, now visibly annoyed at the idea of having to school these guys into a more adult way of thinking. Those guys were too naïve to always assume the best but never plan for the worst. He could see, now, why he was sent here.
“He’s got a point.” Said Luke. “And that’s why the drive is being carefully analyzed in a remote location on the moon. Off the grid, with no Eve connection.”
Thankfully someone had some brains in this room. Justin seemed satisfied at the compromise, but still seemed to be thinking about the issue. It was possible, the general conceded, that the machine had actually managed to infect the asteroid. He was no expert, but Eve herself seemed to agree on the fact that it was a strategy she’d employ. There was, however, no definitive guarantee about the nature of the data on the drive.
“In any case,” he said, voicing his thoughts. “Even if the machine actually managed to pull it off, the way the voices acted and how the defense systems responded makes me think that its attempt was not completely successful.”
“Right.” Justin said with wide eyes. “So the alien part that was still active might have put a virus inside the drive without the other part knowing.” He said, his reasoning still very linear but at least it was a start.
“It is a possibility we cannot ignore.” The general said satisfied.
Luke was looking his way with a contorted face, as if he had been waiting patiently for so long before speaking that he was about to burst. “Enough bickering about that. I said it’s being handled. The issue here is another. General?”
“Yeah, I fear you are right. We must presume that the news about us is reaching their homeworld as we speak. Whether they sent a signal when they attacked, or the aliens figure out something is wrong when the communications stop coming, it matters little. I say we assume the worst-case scenario and act as if they sent a signal just before attacking.”
“What if they sent one before that? When they entered the solar system, perhaps? Do we even know just how long they’ve been watching us for?” Louis asked.
“I suppose that the probability of them finding us by chance is very low, right?” Justin asked in return.
“You do the math and answer yourself.” Luke replied dismissively.
“Mh, right. Little to no chance.”
“Indeed. They have been sent here for a purpose. Them having a tailored virus speaks great volumes about their goal here.” The general said.
“How did they even know how to infect our systems?” Justin asked.
“Again, man, we have no idea how long they’ve been stalking us for.” Louis answered.
“I don’t think it was a strike force. Maybe a scout unit, or a way to test our defenses. And I must say that we failed the test spectacularly.” The general said, frowning. He was feeling, now more than ever, like an ant trying to stop a giant.
“We never expected aliens to come like this!”
“And that’s where we did wrong, Justin.” The general found himself standing and yelling before catching himself.
“ORDER!” Luke roared. “Stop bickering like children or I’ll just throw you out of here. We got sidetracked. Eve?”
“Assume a lightspeed signal, and that the closest possible star system is Alpha Centauri.” She said, looking back at the emperor.
“That’s four more years from now just to reach the place. Then it’s another few years for a fleet to arrive, assuming no preparation time and assuming they are actually that close. This gives us a window of time.” She continued.
“That’s also assuming they haven’t sent a fleet this way already.” The general retorted.
“Still, the course of action is the same. We prepare as best we can and as quickly as we can.” Luke said, gaze set on Justin as if to see what the man’s reaction would be. He then turned towards the general. “I expect you two to work together on this front.”
“Of course.” The man replied quickly. He expected as much.
“What about the anomaly in the Belt?” Asked Dimitri, eyes darting around the room as if to watch everybody at once.
“The Piercer of Darkness is analyzing it as we speak, but it does not seem related to our issues at all.”
“Different technological… approach, so to speak. And all the data indicates it’s been sitting there for tens of thousands of years as well.” He replied.
“Alright, so it’s not relevant to the issue at hand.” Conceded the young man.
The meeting ended soon after, leaving everybody with a feeling of urgency and danger that seemed impossible to shake off. The general too, despite being used to this kind of situations, found himself unable to relax. The time scales seemed long, but they actually were not.
He sighed and decided to grab something to eat as he mulled over the current situation. He had watched the footage from the Desolation’s mission, and had seen just how easily a few lazy shots from the asteroid almost managed to turn such a grandiose ship into scrap metal.
The people too. They were not ready for war. They were not ready to act in case a real battle was to happen, not to speak about the fact that humanity had never fought a war in space before. If a crippled scout ship like the Interloper managed to almost topple the world’s order, just how much damage could a real war fleet inflict upon humanity? Would we even be able to survive a full-scale attack?
A small packet of data came to life in a small laboratory on the moon’s surface, several tens of kilometers away from the closest cluster of humans, Moonbase Alpha. It underwent several tests in a controlled environment and came in contact with a wide array of simulated entities made to trigger a possible response. It then came in contact with other entities progressively more similar to the real world, until it was determined that indeed the data packet was inert.
Then, it was sent away in the form of radio waves, traversed the vacuum of space and ended up inside one of the vast buffers onboard a satellite circling around the moon. By then, it was already inside the cybersphere normally referred to as the Internet. Indeed, as soon as the data reached the buffer, a quantum processor and a few classic ones began syncing up and formed a new process inside an entity known to the masses as Eve. The location of such processors was irrelevant, as they existed scattered throughout the entirety of the human controlled territories. In space, on the moon, and of course on Earth.
Eve processed the data quickly, merging it with her own all-encompassing database and integrating the information with what already lived inside of such database. It could be said that every single processor connected to the Internet was a part of her mind, and that every single storage unit connected to the Internet was a part of her memories. Of her database.
After processing and understanding the data, she decided to send it to a few people she thought would like to receive the information. Justin was one of such people, and a notification arrived in the virtual part of his field of view just as he was about to start eating his lunch.
He read though the data quickly, barely paying any attention to his food or his surroundings. And he found the data disconcerting. The general and the others were right, after all, he concluded. He had been naïve to think that humanity was ready to venture into space, and that now that they were an interplanetary species, they could feel safe from the threat of extinction.
In fact, it seemed that such a threat just became much more real.
A communication channel sprung to life after he asked his implants to forward the request to Eve. She, in turn, forwarded the same request to the recipient and waited until the man in question decided what to do with the request.
“Hello?” A voice said in Justin’s ear.
“It was a scout, sent to see why there were radio waves coming from this part of the galaxy.” Justin said, words coming out of his mouth at a breakneck pace.
“I was reading it just now, couldn’t have you waited like three minutes?” The voice said, fake annoyed.
“I figured. So, what are your thoughts?” The voice asked.
“It’s disconcerting. It really was just a random scout; some weak fodder sent this way on a whim. And it managed to almost cripple us.”
“That won’t happen again, though. Eve and I are planning to implement some rather… extreme measures against hacking.” The voice said. “But I share your view about the whole issue. It’s much worse than I even dared to assume. There is a silver lining to all this, though: they are not taking us seriously. Yet, at least.”
“Why do you think the scout decided to attack us?” Justin asked, trying to see if the other man shared his opinion on the matter.
“I suspect that they actually underestimated us, badly. They must have thought they could just send the virus in and be done with it, no need for reinforcements. And if this were true, then maybe there’s a chance that no reinforcements are even ready to depart from their planet right now.” He said. “But there is a chance this is all bullshit and they come knocking on our doorstep tomorrow morning at first light.”
“I’ll get to work immediately.”
“Good boy. You do that.”
He was about to smile when suddenly his face froze. A realization dawned on him, and all of its implications.
“Do you think they have a tesseract?” Justin asked, voice shaking.
“Oh. Oh, shit. That would be bad, wouldn’t it?” The voice tried to joke this out, but failed. “Please tell me you have failed to make any progress on that particular piece of technology. I’d like to sleep tonight.”
“Ah, about that…”
“What if they have it? What would be the outcome?” He asked, his mind quickly adapting to the new piece of information. He was not a tech geek, but space warfare required tech savviness and he greedily absorbed any piece of information he deemed necessary.
“It would cut the timescales in half, at the very least. And that’s assuming they can only send signals through it.” The man at the other end replied.
“This cannot wait anymore. I’m calling Justin right now.” He said, and he was about to drop the connection when the other man stopped him.
“Wait.” He said.
“There’s a new data packet that’s been decrypted. It’s about a good portion of their technology.”
“No superluminal travel or communication.” The man said, relief evident in his voice.
“But we cannot be sure it’s not false information.” The general retorted, his usual lack of trust making him doubt the nature of the information. Even if it was from the machine and thus no doubt made with all the best intentions, he could not be sure if it could be trusted. There was no way to know just how much influence the alien AI had over the earthen one, or how much false information it could feed it.
“Then I’m calling Justin. The timetable has to be moved forward quite a bit.”