Sunday, 22 April 2012

Chapter 13 - July 2073

Deep Space Automated Tracking System

Updating target track: UKX7834-101
Timestamp: 0020730725.23.59
Calculating destination vector... [245] [008] [+/- 17%]
Calculating velocity... 97132756 [+/- 12%] km/h
Calculating distance... 318440028556 [+/- 17%] km
Calculating time to intercept... 870 [+/-  16%] days
Calculating signal lag... 12 [+/- 10%] days
Priority override...HIGH

Luna Mining Corporation Headquarters, Johannesburg

Michael Richards engulfed himself in a datascape unlike any he had ever experienced before. The complexity of it dwarfed even the international financial models he used. The richness of it beat any game or simulation he had ever seen. Including some experimental simulations. This was the VM from the aliens in all its glory. Their response to his contact arrived and expanded the core VM, into this.

It is that VM that he now immersed himself in, or at least it was a static replication of it. The research team had baked out a simulation of the virtual machine. This was more a snapshot of the VM, than the adaptive entity that excited the researchers so much. Michael had insisted on precautions, and in fairness to the team, they had agreed. Letting the VM loose on an open network, even a secured one was too much of a risk. At least until they had more of an understanding of what they were dealing with.

Michael didn’t really comprehend what he was experiencing. The data formed shapes much too complex to grasp. Occasionally he glimpsed small pieces of it that made sense, but most of it remained a confused jumble. He spent a lot of time within virtualities, he was familiar with many datascapes, but this. This was something new.

Through the UN’s natural language interface the data became more comprehensible. However, it also seemed to lose layers of nuance in the translation. This interface did provide him with the salient facts of the new message.

The aliens would trade with him. They didn’t mention whether that trade would be shared with the UN. He’d try and find out with his next reply. They’d also learned that the aliens wanted to learn more about human social structures. Specifically political decision making processes. Although it appeared that the aliens had some difficulty understanding the concept. Or at least they had trouble articulating it. Michael believed his trade offer had sparked this new interest in the aliens.

He’d tasked the team with finding a way to interact with the data directly. To try and access the hidden meaning and by doing that gain a greater understanding of the aliens. He sought some advantage over the UN in their dealing with the aliens, at the very least it made sense to try and understand who you are dealing with.

Michael’s ego wasn’t so great that he thought he would unlock the puzzle himself. He’d already ordered Jacob to move two of the more imaginative data jockeys from his team to the research team. Maybe a more intuitive approach would compliment the researchers’ analytical methods. With all his projects he liked to get a taste for it. To see the shape of it in the datascape. In its own way the data around him formed a beautiful pattern. He delved deeper, allowing himself to be swallowed by the datascape.

A shrill alarm cut through his reverie. He checked the source of the call, St Mary’s. He paused the simulation, allowing it to fade from his focus so he could take the call.

“Mr Richards?”


“Mr Richards, this is the duty Sister at St Mary’s. I run the ward your wife is on.”

“Yes.” He knew this. “Is there news?” Please God, let there be good news. He didn’t attempt to disguise the tremor in his voice.

“Mr Richards, we’d like you to come in to the hospital. Your wife is awake.”

United Nations Security Council, New York

Another long day of briefings and meetings at the Security Council. The day wasn’t finished yet and already General Fuller felt tired. Perhaps weary would be a better description. A headache shrouded his thoughts.
The latest communication from the aliens caused quite a stir. Never had they been so direct with their questions. They wanted to know how human society fit together. What was the chain of command for human decision making. They’d even requested details on specific human organisations. It was the questions about the United Nations and its role in controlling the human race that caused the most uproar.

As usual it was the Chinese and Indians making the most noise. Here, they claimed, was proof that the aliens sought a human weakness that they could exploit. For once Fuller thought that they might have a point. The details of some of the questions couldn’t have been drawn from the information they had sent to the aliens in previous communications. So where were they getting the extra information from?

The debate lasted all morning and carried on through lunch. It delayed the meeting that was about to start. Everyone was spooked, even those, like Fuller, who advocated continued contact. Eventually a consensus was reached. They would continue contact. The response would include details available from any sanitised press release. In other words, they would present a version of the truth of human geo-politics, if not the reality.

Now Fuller had another meeting to attend. Paladin up in orbit was coming together. The problems over the past two months had been ironed out. It had taken a lot of effort, but the project was just about back on schedule. However, one thorny, political problem remained.

The world’s nuclear arsenal had been reduced considerably through successive arms reduction treaties. While the actual numbers had been reduced, research had continued. Several advances had made  individual weapons much more powerful. New technologies like accelerated plasma and enhanced fusion reactions created weapons of terrible power.

The nuclear club increased in number quickly during the first half of the 21st century. Many small nations invested in the capability to have their own nuclear inventory. Those numbers reduced again, slowly by treaty. Now these weapons once again identified an exclusive club. The irony of this was that fusion power is relatively ubiquitous. Although most fusion generators came as sealed units, and built with many safety measures, it wasn’t difficult to turn one into a weapon. The UN agency directed with monitoring these generators was huge, it made the Orbital Command look small. Only constant surveillance prevented these being turned into weapons.

Paladin would form the main defence if the aliens proved to be hostile. That meant it needed to be armed with the best weapons humanity possessed. The UN had no stockpile of these weapons itself, they would have to come from the members assembled in this room. All of the nuclear powers were present: the European Union, United States, Brazil, Israel, Russia, India, the Islamic League and Korea.

Each member provided an assessment of their inventory. Unsurprisingly these assessments lacked full disclosure. Individual nations wanted to make sure they had a reserve stockpile, whether for against their enemies on Earth, or as a last resort if the aliens did reach Earth.

Paladin’s requirements were limited, s and some country’s weapons were easier to integrate than others. If it was up to him, he would take the weapons from those countries. Those countries wouldn’t be happy with providing the bulk of the weapons, making themselves disproportionately weaker. That made Fuller’s job more difficult. Ahead lay what was sure to be a vigorous discussion over who would provide what. Paladin would get its weapons, Fuller would make sure of that, but it would take some careful negotiation.

One new piece of intelligence did colour his thoughts. Production on these weapons was universally kept to a minimum. Most effort lay in maintaining existing systems and research. India and China however had several indications that they were resuming production of some of these systems. The Japanese in contradiction to its own constitution also appeared to be assisting.

Interestingly, China and India’s assessments of their arsenals were the more honest out of all the represented nations. Hopefully that indicated they were willing to make a deal. He did wonder if the new weapons were intended to make up those they would lose to Paladin, or if they were needed for another purpose.

St Mary’s Hospital, Johannesburg

“Honey it’s ok, I can manage.” The firmness in Rachel’s voice betraying her frustration.

“You woke up less than a week ago. I think it’s too soon...”

“The doctor said I was fine to go home...”

“As long as you rested.” Michael continued to pack his wife’s belongings. His voice rose rising his own annoyance.

“I will rest.”

“Attending a charity dinner is not resting.” Michael revealed the source of his anger. Rachel had only been awake a week and they were already arguing. He knew it was his own fault, she didn’t like to be coddled, or told what to do. Normally that’s what he liked about her. But after watching her look so fragile for those terrible weeks, he wasn’t about to back down.

“I’ll be fine.”

“It doesn’t matter anyway, the dinner has been cancelled.”

“Cancelled! How dare you..”

“I cancelled it two weeks ago, while you were still in a coma.”

The silence remained between them. He continued packing with short angry motions. She faced away from him, slowly dressing, each movement painful. Her saw her pain and moderated his tone.

“I don’t want to fight with you Rach. You don’t know what I went through. You nearly died. The thought of losing you. It was too much.”

Michael’s pain matched her own and Rachel saw that. She stood and tried to step towards him. She stumbled, instinctively he caught her, stopping her fall.

“I just want you to be all right. “ He tried to mask the tears in his voice. It seemed silly to him, why the emotion now? She held him and it felt good, safe.

“All right. If it’s cancelled I can’t go anyway.” Accepting. “But I will be going back to work soon.”

That would be an argument for another day, for now he was happy that she was coming home.

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