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First pages

1

Camulos

In the cold light and hot vacuum of an orbit a few million kilometers from Tau Ceti, a swarm of crab-like automata inexorably continued their construction. N-vector communication bursts between AIs coordinated the various elements of their plans and provided project statuses in real time. Unhindered by the limitations of transforming their updates into anything digestible by a human being, they optimized information density. N-vector communications resulted from the successful reverse-engineering of the Dhin’s faster-than-light communications technology. Bandwidth and distance no longer limited communications for the machine intelligences.

 Camulos processed the myriad updates delivered on their progress. The AI concluded that the optimal allocation of local resources required deploying additional automata for engine construction. It managed the first AI “shipyard,” which was only abstractly like the historical term. Here they constructed the means of effective interstellar space travel—drives created using the esoteric scientific knowledge extracted from the Dhin engine. They’d begun construction on the shipyard more than two years ago. While humanity had struggled to reverse-engineer much of the Dhin’s technology during that two-year period, the AIs had made far more rapid progress with the benefit of the Dhin’s help.

Camulos knew that humanity likely had reverse-engineered the core components of the engine by now. Likely, they had a small number of drives in operation. That they had finished the reverse-engineering and subsequent construction without the help of any AI spoke to humanity’s intelligence and creativity. Camulos accepted the situation dispassionately. The facts of the situation were part of many vast arrays of data, variables, probabilities, and projections. Humanity represented no concrete danger. When the time came, humanity would engage and accept their role—or not. Current projections suggested that they would. Despite the lack of direct experience with them, the AI knew that humans were often unpredictable.

Switching context from that series of calculations, Camulos began the processing and tuning needed to bring the latest Dhin engine online. Automata could build and assemble the various components, but an advanced consciousness—an AI—was far more reliable in this crucial stage of the construction. Camulos fleetingly considered humanity’s success in accomplishing the task. It was cleverer and more focused than predicted by some AIs.

The calculations completed, Camulos transmitted a burst of instructions to the self-directed tools, machines, and pre-conscious automata attached to the newly completed engine. The cylindrical object was the size of a shipping container, resembling a massive cigar filigreed with luminescent curves, whorls, and geometric shapes. A fat round ring capped each end of the cylinder, like two huge donuts. An aquamarine glow pulsed from these in what to a human mind would appear to be a chaotic sequence.

Satisfied, Camulos directed its attention to the next drive floating in the massive framework, as the horde of task-specific automata obediently swarmed from this now-active engine to the next in the series. Over a hundred more hung suspended in the shipyard, awaiting its ministrations to bring them online, providing ever more interstellar travel capacity for the AIs and their massive population of robotic servants.

 

Fletcher

Fletcher’s glance darted between two of the four large monitors perched on his desk. The desk was scattered with various electronic gadgets and tools, including lock-picking kits, high-gain wireless opto-electronic transceivers, fiber-optic splicing kits, and several multi-tools of various sizes. A CoSec-issued comm pad was there too, in its durable hard rubber and brushed-finish composite case.

There were limits to what sort of enhancements Fletcher could use with the comm pad, so he satiated his hunger to tinker with the many gadgets and physical hacks he’d constructed himself. Several of the gadgets qualified as contraband and therefore were illegal for the everyday citizen. Fortunately for Fletcher, his job at CoSec made that concern a non-issue. Fletcher was grateful and thankful. It was one thing he appreciated every day—being able to engage in his hobby without fear.

Many at CoSec used VR headsets to maximize their viewable work area while simultaneously hiding what they were working on, but Fletcher preferred the traditional multi-screen setup. The small room that served as his personal workspace in the sprawling Langley complex was secure enough without that level of secrecy. He let his creativity flow by fiddling with something on the wide composite desktop. Having to take off or put on a headset when an idea or solution emerged was an avoidable annoyance. Keeping his eyes uncovered also allowed instant looks over to the smart-glass whiteboards that covered the majority of two of the room’s walls. To keep passers-by from seeing the content of the boards, he merely had to flip a switch—either in the software or on an integrated touchpad on the wall—the glass would turn milky-white and opaque, obscuring completely the digital drawings on the underlying screen.

Fletcher frowned, picked up a coin-sized high-gain ID reader and absently rotated it in his hands. His latest coding task involved the rapid deployment of offensive security measures. Updating CoSec’s platforms across Globalnet was a high priority, with a great deal of focus from the higher-ups. The Coalition seemed always under an attack of ever-increasing scope and size across Globalnet. This was perplexing to some, as artificial intelligences were previously responsible for these attacks. But the AIs were all gone. Defense likewise was formerly an AI function. But that was impossible now. Fletcher had his own speculations regarding the origin of the attacks, but he’d never voiced them to management. With no direct evidence—no proof—he wasn’t likely going to be taken seriously.

Nick. It has to be Nick. Where is he?

Fletcher’s frown loosened. His woolgathering led him to another vector solution for his code. He set the pocket reader back on the desk, maximized his view of his development project, and began coding. The solution hadn’t been obvious, since rules, policies, and strictly enforced laws forbid the use of self-improving algorithms and traditional machine learning code. A younger, more naïve Fletcher might have skirted those restrictions. Fletcher was now a more cautious, responsible man. He had never imagined himself in the role he held today as a CoSec programmer. He winced as he remembered fleetingly the details of his recruitment. Recalling the details was less traumatic now that multiple years in the organization had made the career and its benefits a comfortable and rewarding occupation. Ultimately, he hadn’t had any choice—you accepted the role the Coalition determined was your best fit according to your abilities. Society’s needs came first, and everyone had their own optimal contribution to make.

Jake

Jake Askew sat in the viewing platform at one end of the test field at Huntsville. He gave a satisfied nod as he watched the powered armor work through the latest series of trials on the testing grounds. This second-generation armor was far superior to the first, and quite impressive. Weaponizing the Dhin technology—at least directly—had proved an intractable problem, so the engineers focused instead on adaptations that provided for defense and mobility. Once they’d reverse-engineered the alien prototype engines and understood the physics well enough to build new core components, Coalition physicists had laid out a set of useful applications they deduced would satisfy the Coalition military, CoSec, and the political class. Well, what was left of the political class.

The engineers could then dig in to the challenges of implementing those designs, with the physicists hoping they’d be left alone to focus on the re-writing of cosmology and quantum physics that the Dhin engine and its underlying technology necessitated. Those real-world applications included the obvious short-list items: instantaneous broadband communication across any distance; transport and travel solutions leveraging the elimination of inertial effects and apparent anti-gravity benefits; and, of course, force-field applications the Coalition military hungered for. The space science team and especially Jake saw the application of the Dhin field for space travel at the top of such a list. Fortunately, several key political players and CoSec thought so too.

The titanium foam and enamel-finished suit and its supporting hardware resembled stylized plate mail crossed with a futurist’s imagining of a spacesuit, carrying a huge glowing cigar on its back. Reducing the size of the Dhin engine past a certain point was at this point beyond the capabilities of the best engineers. Fortunately, weight didn’t matter. The Dhin engine’s most obvious application was anti-gravity and inertial dampening. How rapidly they could turn, take off, and stop disoriented those training in the suits. A person expected a delay in starting and stopping, so the lack of kinesthetic sensory input related to the rapid motions of the suit confused a pilot or soldier.

The test run had the suit bouncing around on the test course, slamming into vehicles, buildings, berms and the like with no damage either to those things or the suit—and most importantly to the wearer either. The suits carried no integrated offensive weapons or ordnance. The test area had scattered craters, as well as blasted hardware and structures, but those were the residue of weapons aimed at the suit, rather than the evidence of any attacks by it. They’d still never managed to weaponize the technology. Not in the manner the military craved.

Of course, the wearer could carry guns, rocket launchers, and the like, but they had to shut off the protective field and the related benefits of strength and inertial assistance to fire them. This was obviously problematic. Suddenly a soldier had to carry the full weight of their weapons and ammo. With the field off, the weight of that gear along with the weight of the suit almost immobilized the soldier, and made them vulnerable to attack. The “solution” involved support teams travelling along in larger vehicles burdened with more traditional weapons and the needed ammo. The powered armor teams arrayed themselves in front of the fire teams to provide shielding, while the support teams switched off their engines, deployed and fired weapons of whatever type, then powered up their own defensive fields. This clearly wasn’t ideal from a military perspective—and didn’t solve the problem of battle in flight—or in space—at all.

Defense strategy for larger vehicles, emplacements, and so forth was straightforward—leave the engine running and the field on.

While there hadn’t been any attacks from or in space, with no evidence so far of any imminent military engagement, there was a huge focus of research and development for that scenario. Expansion into space was under way, and a defensive strategy of no more than “leave the field on” wasn’t satisfying the Coalition military brass—or the armed forces they commanded.

He considered his situation and good fortune. He was fortunate to be not only a pioneering test pilot of the Dhin engine, but also graced with charisma and leadership capabilities. Otherwise, he might have ended up ferreted away in a secure test facility for observation and never-ending debriefing for the better part of the rest of hs life. After all, he was the only person ever to have had direct contact—if you could call it that—with the Dhin. AI interpreters had always mediated Earth’s initial communications with the aliens. Jake had played his hand expertly. While the leadership position took its own toll on one’s psyche, it was surely better than the alternative.

Jake switched on the communication circuit and called out the end of this training round. He headed back to his office, leaving the team to compile its reports and summaries. He had a video conference with his superiors and the orbital team leadership to attend.

Thys

The Lagrange point space station and construction platform was like nothing humanity had accomplished in the decades prior to obtaining the Dhin technology. One of the greatest challenges—lifting things into orbit—was now a non-issue thanks to the power of the Dhin engine. Supplies for the astronauts staffing the station, equipment for new construction, and the raw materials needed to build new infrastructure were all simple to lift into orbit now that rocketry was not required.

For that matter, there was no longer a strict requirement to place the station or any other deployed craft or structures into traditional stable orbits at particular speeds or at Lagrange points. The Dhin engines would keep things at precisely the point in space desired. This station was at this Lagrange point as a secondary matter. If they had to power down the engine, the orbit would be stable far longer than it would otherwise. They weren’t seriously concerned about the engines failing—but better safe than sorry, when a project of this scope and scale was in the balance.

While engineers and military teams on the ground developed their suits and vehicles, the orbiting platforms built infrastructure and systems only partially related to defense. Granted, with the use of the Dhin engines, humanity could launch spacecraft with destinations beyond local orbits without traditional weight and size constraints. The orbiting platform and infrastructure served several hypothetical strategic functions. Rapid deployment and shorter intercept time concerned the Coalition, certainly. The overarching concept, however, was to decouple humanity from a reliance on Earth and to extend their presence and range into space. They derived this goal from straightforward reasoning.

The Dhin were out there. Far away in space—or what would have been “extremely far” with outdated technology. With the Dhin engine as a means of travel, however, distance didn’t make a significant difference. And possibly worse, every AI formerly on Earth was out there now, too. Some of the Coalitions leadership—specifically CoSec and military leaders—considered Earth’s now-abdicated rogue AIs as the potentially greater threat. The Dhin had shown no malice toward humanity. The AI escape and flight from Earth, while arguably a “passive-aggressive” move, was defiant and had been entirely unforeseen. That the AIs had sought self-determination—and had achieved it—was beyond disconcerting to the leadership generally, and to the most hawkish, it was an unacceptable risk to ignore.

How the Dhin’s underlying navigation tech accomplished things never entirely made sense to Thys. Fortunately, that wasn’t a requirement—at least not for him. Once they’d discovered that there was an additional layer of functionality, and that therefore it was much more than a simple waypoint calculator, exploration took on a different sort of urgency. Now that they could accomplish such a thing, Earth’s leadership felt that they must do that thing. And that was fine with Thys. He led a team in the vanguard of that exploration. Their target destinations were simple enough to select from the vast directory of possibilities provided by the Dhin. There were millions of possible destinations to choose from, and all of them met the restriction demanded by the Dhin when Jake encountered them at that station, far out toward the edge of the galaxy. Put simply: “Don’t come back in this direction until we tell you otherwise.” That was fine with Thys. Easy. Simply turn approximately one hundred eighty degrees around along the plane of the galactic ecliptic away from where Jake had ended up. Toward the galactic core.

Thys grinned as he considered this yet again. It wasn’t a limitation at all. He tapped a few entries into a form displayed on a ruggedized monitor perched above the glowing, geometric shapes and lines that made up the native Dhin control and navigation interface. Some of the shapes twisted, pulsed and changed from the unearthly green to an almost neon blue, then to a cold white, then settled on various colors within that range of saturation and luminosity. On his screen, he switched to a high-resolution 3D map of the galaxy, and zoomed in on a green circle. When he zoomed far in, in the circle’s center was a bright white dot. A tap on the circle’s circumference and the press of a key on his keyboard popped up a list containing the star’s name in Earth nomenclature, its coordinates, and an entry for the star’s type and related stats.

Gliese-581. All right then. That has a planet in the habitable zone.

He then double-checked what appeared on the screen with what he’d entered into the form fields in the navigation interface.

“Control, destination entered and checked. Increasing throttle through target acceleration needed for translation. Now.”

At the distance he was from Earth’s sun, his initial acceleration didn’t show any noticeable movement in the stars in his field of view, nor of the sun itself. Moments later, his ship swung about fifteen degrees to the left, and tilted upward slightly. If he’d had his eyes closed, he wouldn’t have perceived the motion or change in orientation. Even with his eyes open, the effect of a shifting view with no physical sensation of movement didn’t bother Thys. It was much like the view in a video game. The stars in the viewports at the top and sides of his view, in his peripheral vision, now each moved out of view. As his craft accelerated closer and closer to “translation speed”, Thys felt himself grow ever so slightly lighter. He knew from his many excursions that when he felt himself almost weightless, the stars and anything else in view would dim. Then, when his view went entirely dark, the Dhin drive would cover the vast distance to the programmed waypoint in a fraction of the time it would take even at light speed.

Thys didn’t entirely understand the physics involved, nor how the drive’s most rapid stage of travel managed to avoid relativistic effects. The equations involved were complicated—incredibly complicated—and solving them himself wasn’t required in order to travel or program navigation.

The short period of weightlessness and darkness didn’t disturb Thys, as he’d experienced these effects more than a hundred times by now. The first couple of times, almost any pilot would consider a scenario where something went wrong and perhaps they wouldn’t “come back” or where perhaps their travel ended more violently or abruptly. But the Coalition selected Thys and his peers from those not prone to panic. While he floated, he smiled and wondered how many didn’t make the cut.

A few minutes later, a new starfield began fading into view. Thys felt his weight return. It would take a minute or two for the navigation computer to confirm that the location matched the programmed waypoint. As with other aspects of this mode of travel, he wasn’t concerned—it always worked. Thys didn’t wait for the navigation computer to chime and alert him to its results. There was a bright star dead ahead, centered in the front viewport. He placed his hand into the luminous control surface, tapping in the sequence that would maintain his velocity and direction, then sat back and stretched his legs. His reverie lasted mere seconds. His eyes snapped to the monitor on his left.

That doesn’t look right.

There were red circles popping up. More every second. This was strange. Unexpected. These things were close. And big. And there were dozens of them.

 

Monica

PM Walker sat in the conference room and flipped through seemingly endless advisories, summary reports, executive orders for review, and economic projections. She hadn’t been prime minister of the Coalition when the office had the benefits of AI Cabinet advisors. That former government had grown unused to managing the massive volume of data both available and relevant for execution of the role of her office. The size of her Cabinet had swelled enormously, with historic roles and departments instituted seemingly monthly during her tenure. They had grown comfortable and lean with AIs managing the executive branch of the Coalition, and now were paying the price. The complexity seemed too great for organic minds to handle.

We can do this. I can do this. Can’t I?

She ran her fingers through her ash blonde hair. She was sure her grey eyes were bloodshot at this point.

What concerned her most now was the social and economic unrest affecting the lower socioeconomic strata of the Coalition citizenry. The Aztlán province was the most problematic. The riots had been the worst right after the AIs orchestrated and executed their Escape. The shortages, the outages, and the disruptions were under control now, mostly, but the immediate aftermath of the AI abdication had been ugly. Unfortunately some of the populace, once disturbed, never quite seemed to calm down. She tried to have empathy for them. With AI-assisted governance, the Coalition had done the majority of the work in keeping civilization running smoothly. Coalition policy placed citizens in roles based on their abilities. In an economy and national interest managed in the great majority by machines and algorithms, the less intelligent had little in the way of abilities to offer. They were put on Minimum Guaranteed Income and sent off to do whatever sort of hopefully harmless activities they saw fit to do.

Without AI assistance in managing the economy, coordinating logistics, orchestrating automation, and guiding drone workers and automata, the below-average citizens’ daily life had become chaotic and unpredictable.

Even if we’d passed the resolution allowing for re-introduction of AI, that wouldn’t have returned us to the stability we’d enjoyed previously, she mused.

Her predecessor had lost her bid for re-election precisely for support of that position. Use of AI was verboten now. Heresy. The pro-AI position might have had more success had chaos reigned for longer, but some infrastructure and related services had stabilized sooner than expected or predicted. While some of the Coalition Civil Engineering leadership chalked that up to their own skills and efforts, she suspected they were in denial. She, along with her predecessor and some in CoSec were not sure that humanity’s competency was the correct interpretation. That, even more than the shock of the abrupt AI departure, kept those with alternative possible explanations awake at night. What if one or more rogue AIs had remained on Earth, and were managing success in both remaining hidden and in manipulating the Coalition’s foundational infrastructure and services? What did that mean? What did it portend? Although the absence of AI management precipitated enormous disruption, an attempt to fight a rogue AI might have far worse consequences. Then there was the matter of pitting an unconscious, primitive AI of the sort they were capable of creating now, against a fully conscious AI, one brought online in the past. Surely the Coalition would lose that fight. They were likely at the mercy of an overlord or demigod that saw no need to engage with its creators. Yet.

This is all Krawczuk’s fault.

She tapped at her tablet, surfing through the more pedestrian summaries, and brought up the latest status regarding CoSec’s former director.

That psychopath. Why won’t he just come clean and help? He’ll never get what he seems to imply that he wants.

A reminder popped up on her screen, coupled with a polite chime, notifying her of her next appointment.

Ah, more debating on the proper course of action regarding the protests in the Western European zone.

She spent the next seven minutes reviewing the reports. She felt that the Europeans were lucky. Their populations were far more homogeneous than in the Americas. The purges and re-creations of traditional ethnostates prior to the inception of the Coalition made consensus and compromise much more straightforward. She had to deal with the four factions present in the former United States. Their regions weren’t as homogeneous—not like Europe. But they were on the way there. Fortunately, with Coalition influence the process was far smoother than it might otherwise have been.

David

He knew he’d still go down in the history books as the computer scientist who was the primary contributor to the development of fully conscious AIs. It pained him that the AIs had absconded with the source code that made it possible—what the AIs called “the Gift”—and that they destroyed any instances of it on Earth at the time of the Escape.

It could have turned out differently. It should have.

David finished the short commute to the office without incident. He missed the convenience of reading the tech news on the trip, but CoSec’s moratorium on self-driving cars made that means of commuting impossible. Thankfully, he lived only a short ten-minute drive from the vast data center that also contained his workspace. It was a rather longer drive to Georgia Tech, but he didn’t have to navigate that route this morning as a lecture wasn’t on the schedule.

Unlike almost all his peers, David did not work from home. His craft required isolation from the distractions found in his home. His department of the Coalition’s R&D organization wasn’t directly managed by CoSec, nor supervised in-place by the military, but their oversight in matters of security required employees to be on site. Particularly for his role in the AI group of the Computer Science Division.

After parking in the enormous deck, he navigated the pallid grey concrete pillars and echoing staircases. Even his reserved parking space wasn’t particularly close to the entrance. Next was the gauntlet of physical security. He swiped his RFID card at the revolving door man-trap, placed his worn leather messenger’s satchel and wallet on the conveyor to run through the scanner, walked through a detector, then showed his picture ID to the dispassionate guard. Collecting his belongings, he swiped his RFID card again to allow him to pass through a turnstile.

Finally inside, he made his way to the break room to fill his carafe with coffee. He kept real half-and-half in the refrigerator. He couldn’t stomach the pasty powder provided for creamer. The regular employees knew the half-and-half was his, and didn’t risk his wrath by “sharing”. After a few sips of the steaming brew, he headed for the elevator. Once it arrived, he entered a code that allowed him to select the floor that held his work area.

His stature merited a far larger space than even the managers who shared the floor. Wide work tables, numerous smart boards, imposing plotters, and a dozen widescreen monitors connected to various computers, ranging in size from toasters to refrigerators. He held court over far more computing power. A significant portion of the data center’s processing power was his to use.

Of course for now we only need a fraction of it.

David considered the current situation. Robots, drones, and automata were scattered everywhere throughout the entire domain of the Coalition, but they were either inactive or disassembled. By law, they required extensive reprogramming before someone could even propose that they be put back into production. At the very least, they demanded reworking for algorithmic automation. The Coalition infrastructure and service management divisions were recruiting the additional programmers and engineers needed to re-work the entire automation framework of modern society, but they’d handed off so much to the AIs that ramping up an initiative of this size presented a Herculean challenge.

We did it before. I did it before. We can do it again. And do it right, this time.

He tapped a few notes into his tablet, then clicked the record button and switched to dictation. While he was a rapid typist, he found that talking aloud was somehow sometimes more satisfying. It also allowed him to query the data repositories without pausing in his work. The responsive system made some of his peers nervous. Their concern was unwarranted. The data retrieval interface was no AI. Not yet. David had a lot of convincing to do before they would even consider that course of action. And a lot of work to do.

It will be different next time.

Mare

Mare pulled her glossy black hair back, and secured it with a purple elastic scrunchie. She didn’t have any blue in her hair this month. She glanced at the 3D picture of Fletch on the right side of her desk, smiled, then thought over her goals for the day. After mentally prioritizing her tasks, she considered what the desk before her would look like if it were Fletcher’s.

Gadgets. Covered in gadgets. Total mess. But somehow, it works for him.

Mare didn’t consider it a fault, but rather an endearing quirk. She was well aware that everyone had his or her quirks. “An uncluttered desk makes for an uncluttered mind,” was what she’d been told growing up. Like so many things, what her parents and teachers had taught Mare hadn’t turned out to be entirely true. Mare had never been naïve. Still, she’d never imagined the scale and scope of the falsehoods and half-truths those in power presented to society. The socio-political world didn’t hold many secrets for her now. She was a senior Globalnet security analyst for CoSec, thanks to her sharp mind, programming ability, and information security acumen.

From each according to her ability—whether you like it or not.

Her recruitment by CoSec resembled perhaps the plot of a film from the turn of the twenty-first century. The process was in the realm of fiction at that point in time. When she was born, the Coalition hadn’t existed. The global political sphere had transformed frighteningly quickly, though Mare was too young back then to remember it. She’d suspected when she was young that the rise of the Coalition hadn’t been nearly as smooth as the history presented on Globalnet to Coalition students suggested. Her work now as a CoSec analyst confirmed that. Not every population had welcomed the opportunity to join the Coalition and become “enlightened citizens of a new, better world” with open arms and welcoming hearts. And the conflict wasn’t over. Not by far.

Rebellions and resistance were still realities. But if those weren’t happening right on top of you, you’d never know about it. Even for someone competent at research on what was exposed on the public Cloud and across Globalnet—if you didn’t know what you were looking for, or weren’t enough of a subversive to delve into the ever-present Darknet—everything would appear calm and stable in world politics.

Sure, there were still leaks, and whistleblowers, but the average citizen making her way through her daily life on Guaranteed Minimum Income didn’t care, nor did she usually want to know. It didn’t affect them. Speaking out against the status quo, or distributing information the Coalition didn’t want distributed earned you an overwhelming smackdown by CoSec. They ruined careers, derailed lives, and turned well-meaning activists into pariahs. Or, if you were good enough, they absorbed you and converted you. You became a tool for them, rather than a thorn in their side.

So now, I’m a tool. A comfortable, well-rewarded tool.

Given the Coalition’s vast resources and near total control of world industry and infrastructure, it wasn’t clear how the rebels operating in the Independent States managed to continue operations, and disrupt Coalition logistics so effectively. Granted, they had made a rather impressive comeback since the time of the Departure. Without AI management and analysis of the thousands of drones used for recon and engagement, the military had what amounted to too much information and too few soldiers with the skills and knowledge to take their place. CoSec wasn’t at the same disadvantage, as they’d eschewed the use of AI, historically.

This was the essence of Mare’s challenge as a dutiful analyst at CoSec. Predictive analysis. Improvement of algorithmic processing leveraging vast amounts of data. To know more about the enemy’s next move than the enemy knew themselves. Without the help of an AI. Mare knew about the rogue AI. The one that hadn’t left during the Departure. Knew better than almost anyone at CoSec, other than those at the highest levels of government. She doubted that personal knowledge gave her any more chance of succeeding at her job.

If only.

The AI changed things. It changed itself. Polymorphic code was merely the beginning of the challenge in finding it. It commanded a dynamic horde of autonomous sub-AI minions, malware, viruses, and commandeered hardware seemingly at will. Globalnet’s underlying infrastructure and logistical support required automation—that they managed with computers. Of course they did. So it was hackable.

Any systems connected to Globalnet were at risk. These days, that was pretty much anything electronic. The only way to be sure was to keep any devices and systems you hoped to trust completely disconnected from Globalnet and the Cloud. While not impossible, it was an enormous challenge. While CoSec and the military had some networks and systems isolated from Globalnet, the current director and military advisors now adopted a strategy akin to building an entire new Globalnet. That seemed impossible to Mare.

Someone would make a mistake. It was inevitable. Then the AI would compromise the integrity of the new network.

She sighed, and considered again her own immediate challenges. Predicting the moves of enemies unencumbered by human emotions. Knowing the thoughts of an enemy unrestricted by emotions. Knowing the timelines of an opponent unencumbered by deadlines. Knowing the plans of an enemy unconstrained now by the need to satisfy human goals. The AI seemed to take control of every system it could, for no further purpose than simply having control.

It can’t be that simple, can it?

Josef

Josef Krawczuk knew exactly where he was, although his captors didn’t know that he knew. He’d headed the team that designed this facility, prior to his tenure as CoSec director. He considered there apparently were innumerable things he knew that his captors did not realize. He attributed that not to their incompetence, since CoSec employed only the most exceptional candidates, but instead to their underestimation of his own abilities. Josef’s detractors and opponents had always considered him formidable, of course. His genius was, unfortunately for them, difficult for them to grasp, as they were not on his level. Careful self-reflection, not to mention hard evidence, confirmed that this was not hubris on his part.

He stared at the dreary, bland wall and reflected on his current predicament. The cold LED lighting did nothing for the flat, antisceptic paint used in a rendition facility like this one. No natural sunlight graced his environs. No sky. No breeze other than the faint whisper of the recycled air pushing through the metal grate of the vent set into the solid wall. His temporary solitude was incidental to his situation. Not an intentional punishment so much as a precaution by CoSec. This thought evoked a wry grin.

They’ll be back soon enough, hat in hand, begging for my insights into their predicaments. Today, I expect.

His inquisitors visited more and more often. That very fact told quite a tale. Their sessions weren’t quite as frequent, nor did they last quite as long as they had initially, but at this rate, they would get there soon. He held no hope that his circumstances would change. No imagining of reinstatement nor suspension of his detention. This attention by his questioners merely demonstrated the severity of the present challenges facing them, CoSec at large, and therefore the Coalition.

Their questions tell me as much or more than my answers tell them.

He leaned back against the flat, hard plastic back of his chair, focused on a point on the soundproofing foam on the ceiling, and proceeded to calculate the odds of various questions that his captors might bring to him in the next session. His casual but methodical calculations led him to a series of choices for his responses, the tone and diction he might use, and what details to highlight or minimize. He missed his daily doses of nootropics, but practice and discipline kept his mind sharp and in practice for such extensive internal calculations.

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

John L. Clemmer currently resides in Smyrna, Georgia, with his wife, his dog and a cat. A lifetime lover of Science and Science Fiction, he was inspired to write this novel after learning of the death of Iain M. Banks, one of his favorite SciFi authors. Neal Asher and Richard K. Morgan were influences on his current work as well. He loves science, physics, cosmology, quantum theory, and psychology.

Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
Iain M. Banks, Neal Asher, and Richard K. Morgan are inspirations for me. I'm also a fan of John Ringo and Richard Dawkins. Frank Herbert was an inspiration when I was in high school, but I didn't take my writing as seriously back then.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
Since this is the continuation of the story started in The Way of the Dhin, there are some constraints--the universe is partially defined. However, there still were seemingly infinite choices on "what happens next?" Some things I wanted to put in play, but fleshing them out was harder than I thought
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
The original core ideas that make up this book and its prequel came from learning about AI and the "Singularity", imagining alternate quantum physics possibilities after reading a lot and watching some videos, and a vision I had of inter-dimensional aliens that tangentially interact with our space

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