The conspiracy nuts claimed the this was the government‘s goal all along. Somehow, they would say, the government lost control. But that‘s not really how it started. It all started when one medical researcher found out that a certain type of magnetic field, applied to the brain, could yield a lot of information. Nobody was quite sure precisely how much “a lot” was, of course, until one enterprising grad student and a buddy decided to hook two of the machines together in the lab one night. The resulting paper, “Shared Conscious Experience through Neuromagnetic Interface”, shook the definition of thought and life. The military, of course, was interested in the technology. But they moved far too slowly.
The human brain is composed of billions of neurons. A neuron is like a gun. If the other neurons pull its trigger, it fires. Pretty simple. Yet somehow, a bunch of these little guys together creates intelligence. Consciousness. Reasoning. And the mind that emerges doesn‘t really understand that neurons that make it work. That‘s what happened to the Transhumanist Collective at MIT. It started with the original two grad students. Then a friend. Then another friend. Soon there were a dozen, sneaking into the lab at night and hooking themselves up to the machines. The experience, they said, was amazing. So gratifying. Anyone who hooked up even once was a friend for life.
It was like an addiction. Like a drug.
And as more people joined, the emergent mind lost track of the individuals that made it up. It lost track of humanity. It cared only for itself.
So when 31 grad students and a couple million dollars in cutting edge brain interface technology disappeared from the lab one night, people were justifiably concerned.
Not concerned enough, it turned out.
“They will make a mistake. They will slip up and make a mistake.”
Dim lights, recessed around the ceiling, cut into the stuffy fog of the room. The Director paced slowly, staring into the framed photographs of his predecessors as if they would alight and speak. But the photographs remained frozen, images of an innocence on the verge of being lost.
“Three more kidnappings today, sir,” the deputy ruffled his papers, “A physics professor from Boston. A biology professor,” the deputy paused, “also from Boston. And, uh,” more paper shuffling, then the deputy shifted uncomfortably, “and the deputy in charge security for West Virginia. He disappeared from his hotel room. Agents outside the door report hearing nothing.”
The Director continued to pace.
“That makes nearly fifty so far,” he shakes his head. His hand fumbles a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, but returns them unmolested. “Scientists and law enforcement. I can understand why they‘d go after our guys. Keep us running. Hell, if I didn‘t have to deal with a revolving door of managers and deputies in that division, we‘d have already caught the bastards.” He ponders. “Up the security again,” he nods to the deputy, “I want every authority figure in that division watched by two agents, in person, 24/7. That means they don‘t even go to the bathroom alone.”
“Fantastic,” the deputy mutters sarcastically.
“A hundred people. A semi-truck full of rare equipment. They cannot continue,” he takes a solid step with each word, “to slink around and kidnap. We will find them.”
A week later agents raided an abandoned warehouse after witnesses reported shadowy figures moving around at dark. They found some of the original equipment stolen from the lab. More disturbingly, they also found an ad-hoc, but well designed, manufacturing facility along with many more devices in various stages of disassembly.
The trail went cold after that. The Director stated that, with increased funding, he could maintain the tight security that protected citizens and businesses from what the media had taken to calling the “nerd abductors”. Yet privately, he worried. Scientists, who had analyzed the recovered devices, were also concerned.
“This is very sophisticated engineering,” she looked up from the microscope, “this kind of design is on the cutting edge of prototype design, not even to experimental construction yet. Nano-optic connections? Integrated quantum switches?” She shook her head, “If you asked me yesterday, I would have said this technology is at least five years, maybe ten years, away.”
“But here it is. You‘re looking at it,” the Director was not amused.
The dean returned her gaze to the microscope.
“Is it possible,” the Director stood up from the table, “that the scientists the group kidnapped have been somehow hooked into that machine and made to design this?”
“Without evidence,” the dean shook her head, “I‘d say that‘s highly unlikely. But,” she glanced down, “looking at this, I‘d say there‘s no other explanation. This is an inter-disciplinary achievement. A major one. Only a collection of the best minds, working in the closest of environments, could have developed this in such a short amount of time.”
In the weeks that followed, fear gave way to nervous humor. People made jokes about zombies roaming the country-side, and hollywood considered scripts for several new techno-horror movies. Security was slowly reduced and life went on without ado.
Some said the group must have all died, that their brains got fried. Others said the group must have disbanded and was in hiding. Still others mused that they had fled the country, and were somewhere far away from the prying eyes of the government and military.
“What could cause something like this?”
“Fleeing from guerillas?”
“There are no active cells in this area.”
“That we know of. Besides, all it takes is a rumor.”
“Inconsistent. The animals have been left behind. The clothes. Even the ritual items. No tribe would leave this all behind.”
A deep bird cry echoed through the jungle. Sweat dripped down the officials’ faces.
“They must have moved on, I suppose. That must have been what the missionaries heard of -- those ‘dark people’ moving through the forest. Bunch of bigots. Anyway, I figure there‘s not much more to do here. These tribes never wanted our help in the first place. We‘ll just mark the village as abandoned and that will be the end of it.”
“Swallowed up by the rain forest,” the other remarked dryly. “Come on, I‘m getting all muddy. Let‘s get back to the boat.”
Whack! Whack! Whack!
The pair hacked their way through jungle slowly toward the Amazon River. They paid scarce attention to the bright orange and blue bird nested nearby, nor did they mind the screeching of a band of monkeys moving unseen through the dense trees overhead. Around them, a gentle breeze shuffled the thick vegetation which resisted, then yielded, to their machetes.
“Almost there,” the lead official muttered as he wiped the sweat yet again from his brow. With another swift blow of the machete, massive exotic leaves went crashing to the jungle floor. But what was beyond the leaves was enough to snap the officials out of their revere.
“What the hell is that?”
A dark metal figure, about a meter tall, stood like some post-modern figurine of a cross between man and monkey.
“It looks too modern to be an artifact,” the other muttered, fear creeping into his voice, “none of the tribes around here use metal. At least, not like that.”
“We‘ll take it back with us, have the brains at the university look it over. Who knows, maybe we‘ll be famous for a first discovery?” He smiled.
“Maybe,” the other smiled weakly.
They didn‘t bring the figure back with them. In fact, they didn‘t come back at all. The boat operator reported hearing screams not far from the boat, and saw rustling of the jungle, but claims he saw neither official nor anyone else. “Guerillas,” he suggested. The government agreed, and the tribe was assumed slaughtered.
It was only a footnote on the local news.
Some say that if we had connected the dots, been more vigilant, that we could have stopped them then and there. I don‘t think so, though. If the boat driver had seen the figure, maybe. But he didn‘t. Or at least, he never said he did. There was no reason to suspect anything other than guerillas. In retrospect, that‘s exactly what they wanted.
Even if we had gone in, sent in the army, we wouldn‘t have been prepared. We would never have expected what lay in wait for us. More would have died -- if such a thing is possible -- then died when they came for us. But this was still just the beginning. No one knew what was coming. There was still innocence in the heart of men.
The Transhumanist Collective‘s website was still up a year later. A few wild quotes from discredited science fiction authors and grainy photos were all that graced that simple page. Nobody paid it any mind anymore, nor had they for months.
That‘s when it went public.
I say “public”, because no matter how vehemently the military denied any prior knowledge, I simply can‘t accept that something that had become so obvious missed their spy satellites. It would be as if you had an itching, inflamed, five inch rash on your leg. When your doctor sees it, and you say “I didn‘t notice it”, he‘s not likely to believe you.
Regardless of whether the military knew or not, this was the day, February 11, that the world knew. They didn‘t know WHAT, they only knew something was there... Something horrible...
“What you‘re looking at,” the correspondant dictated from a crisp script while a slideshow of aerial photos flashed on the screen, “is recent imagery from a commercial photography satellite over the rain forest of Brazil.” The photo shows a cleared area in the middle of dense jungle with a series of low, greenish structures. “The Brazilian government claims no knowledge of this installation, but admits that there was suspected guerilla activity in the area in the prior year.” The picture changes, now showing several dark, vaguely human-like figures near one of the buildings. “The base appears to be the most advanced constructed by the guerillas so far, even including what appear to be robots.” The picture changes to show a large, spider-like robot dropping off bundles of some kind with claws. “Although the size is difficult to determine from the photos, photography experts say that the spider robot you see here probably stands approximately twelve feet tall. Each of the bundles near its feet is probably about four feet by two feet. The Brazilian government has indicated it has imminent plans to sieze the installation.”
The next day was the public ground zero. Innocence was lost. I can‘t really describe it. I wasn‘t there. You can‘t understand these things from television. I know, because after I survived the McHarrison incident, I watched it on TV. It was all wrong. They had it all wrong. I couldn‘t believe it. They had no idea. No fucking idea. I don‘t know how wrong the version of this day I saw was. But it‘s all I have. And I‘ll never forget.
Steam rose from the ground in the early morning sun. The small town, not much more than a shanty town for the destitute, sat silent and motionless on the banks of the Amazon. Even the cows refrained from mooing, and the chickens squaked only a peep. A mist set upon the village; bringing for a moment a respite from the bright and harsh sun.
The village was this morning full of fear. They knew nothing of the developments of the past year, nor had they seen the satellite footage. What they did know is that their simple yurts now housed a anti-guerilla squad of Bralizian soldiers. The villagers didn‘t have a choice. The military arrived and took over. But the guerillas don‘t care about subtleties. Once a village has housed the military, the guerillas call every man, woman and child into that village an enemy. Villages usually don‘t survive long.
The old man knew this. But he knew his days were near over, and the fear was not so thick as to keep him off the muddy porch, where he sat on a simple wooden stool, crafted by his father from the exotic trees of the rainforest.
The Commander roused the troops. Rifles, grenades. They spoke in hushed voices. The villagers, except the old man, cowered in fear.
The trees rustled. The Commander looked up.
Somehow the old man survived. His account is the only we have, and it is so fantastic that no one would believe him if they hadn‘t been them on the satellite the night before. And if ... it ... wasn‘t brought back.
He said they came from the trees, like flying monkeys. But faster, and sleeker. The looked like dwarves, but moved alternately on all fours or on two legs. At least two dozen, maybe more. Like a wave they crashed through the village. On their left hand extended three six inch razor sharp knives, with which they slashed the old men and women, and the young children.
Screaming. Confusion. They were merciless. Unmoved.
The old man did not rise from his seat.
From their right hand, they jabbed some with a needle. The Commander was among the first. The soldiers were disorganized, unprepared. They had expected to march into the forest, not have the forest come to them.
Shots rang out, voices yelled. The machines did not even slow in the face of rounds from the soldiers’ rifles.
The invaders were silent save the sound of their feet and hands. Moving swiftly. Deadly.
A grenade exploded. Smoke and debris. The old man coughed.
And slowly the screams faded. No more shots rang out from the fallen soldiers. The women lay motionless in the streets or in their homes. Some of them slashed, and bloodied.
As fast as they had come, they were gone.
The village was once again silent. The mist moved slowly. The old man looked into the depths of the forest.
Here a new vision emerged. These were not so silent, as the mechanized legs struggled to bring out the cavernous body. The giant spiders, two or three of them, lumbered into the town. The moved slowly, but firmly. Those bodies which had been slashed were ignored. Those which had been jabbed the spiders grabbed, and stuffed them into their large, hollow bodies.
They passed by the old man, or more correctly, above him. That‘s what he says, and the satellite seems to bear him out. These things were like cars suspended high enough that a man could barely touch the bottom. Their eight legs spread out thirty feet, maybe more. It‘s tough to say.
Like the others, they were black. Sleek, metallic black. They moved with cold efficiency.
Then they were gone.
The village was silent. The mist rolled through, and the sun brightened upon the muddy riverbank. The blood of children mingled with the water.
The old man sat in silence, wondered why death passed him by.
The first response was outrage. Citizens called for a full military response. The United Nations was ready to get involved.
One of the grenades had blasted apart a slasher robot. It was taken, ironically, to MIT, the very birthplace of the Transhumanist Collective, for analysis.
“Pretty sophisticated servos and hydralics. Nice armor. Looks like the weak spots are at the joints. Kevlar maybe?”
“Looks like it.”
“Well, here‘s why this one gave up the ghost.”
“What is it?”
“Fragments from the grenade penetrated the hydrogen fuel cell, causing it to short out.”
“No secondary power source?”
“Doesn‘t appear to be.”
“Here we go, help me pry off this plate.”
The two scientists balanced force and delicacy as much as possible to pry a metal plate which protected the one part that everyone wanted to see most.
“Got it. Let‘s get this to the AI lab, stat.”
Beneath a faded poster declaring the virtues and promises of Transhumanism, a group of professors examined the device.
“Pretty standard hardware. Custom manufactured, looks faster than anything we have now, but nothing earth shattering.”
“This is the communication module. The antenna connection seems to be missing.”
“It may be attached to the outer plating.”
“Anything in ROM?”
“Yeah, not much though. Let me dump it, hold on. I bet it downloads instructions dynamically at startup.”
“Well, look at this.”
“Is that the radio?”
“Yeah, but it‘s not a radio.”
The ROM was temporarily forgotten.
“That doesn‘t look like any antenna I‘ve ever seen.”
“I‘ve seen something like this. It‘s used in quantum physics research to test and set entanglements.”
Whispers of awe follow. “This is years ahead of even the cutting edge research.”
“Impossible to jam, impossible to track, impossible to eavesdrop, infinite range, no signal loss. The perfect covert network.”
“We should call the General immediately.”
“I‘ll make the call.”
“It doesn‘t look damaged... We could probably reverse engineer this... The patent potential is amazing.”
Beep. The call ends. “The General has another idea, gentlemen. He wants to turn it on.”
The media reported on the autopsy (so they called it). The armor turned out to be better than kevlar. The needle was backed by a fast acting sedative, as expected, and the knives were laced with a powerful neurotoxin. “Even a small scratch on the little toe with one of these knives would be enough to kill a grown man in seconds,” the scaremongers re-iterated time and again.
What the media didn‘t report, because it was classified Top Secret, was a group of scientists and an Army General huddled around a small box connected to a laptop. The first ever quantum radio seen by the human scientific community was activated. A quantum radio hard-tuned to one channel: the heart of the strange compound in Brazil.
But, as far as I know, no communication was successfully established.
The world now knew this was more than a band of guerillas. A lot more. The President dispatched a carrier group to Brazil, along with five thousand ground troops and an unknown number of special forces. He spoke eloquently on the air, describing how the compound was targetted night and day by cruise missiles and stealth fighters. “Their greatest weakness,” he said publically, “is that they lack air power, which is precisely our strength. Even now our carriers are in position, our subs ready to strike. I am prepared, with the approval of the Brazilian government, to remove this scourge from the face of the planet.”
Other nations also responded. In a matter of days, a multi-national group nearly fifty thousand stood at ready, backed with full air support. The world was flush with relief -- whoever was behind these attacks would be killed, or brought to justice, and their horrible machines would be destroyed. Most pundits estimated that the nations were, in fact, greatly over-reacting. “Could be done with a hundred moderately armed men,” one claimed. “A single submarine, armed with a standard compliment of cruise missles, could easily decimate the entire installation,” another claimed.
The media toted the party line. It was over, they claimed, the world would see to that.
In hindsight, it seems obvious. But at that time, people thought these were robots, controlled by scruffy guys in a bunker with crude joysticks. I suspect the governments knew. After all, the pundits were right. If it was just a couple dozen remote controlled drones, a well placed cruise missile and a special forces team would mop it in a couple hours.
So why send fifty thousand soldiers?
Why send a carrier group?
I am convinced they knew. Maybe not entirely, but they knew it was more than everyone thought. The quantum radio was forgotten by the public, but not the powers that be.
They knew, more than anyone, what awaited in that dank jungle.
And the world celebrated at the dawn of the struggle. The world leaders were committed to destroying the atrocity, or perhaps, keeping a small piece for their own benefit.
Like pigs to the slaughter.
The troops stirred in tense silence. Eyes, real and digital, scanned the forest, waiting for an eruption of sleek machines. Satellites scanned every meter of the compound. No activity was detected. Waves crashed on the shores, birds chirped. The Amazon flowed.
As the sun released its first rays into the pink morning sky, the oceans erupted. A battery of cruise missiles streaked across the sky, leaving contrails in their wake as they passed over the troops toward the compound.
And the compound remained empty. Motionless.
The missiles rained down from the sky, closing on the compound in the Amazon jungle.
Then, in unison, the sky was filled with fire and a boom shook the earth.
The soldiers cheered. But they were mistaken.
“I refuse to believe a dozen independently launched missiles malfunctioned simultaneously.”
“Good, because that‘s not what happened.”
“Well what did happen? I‘m about to go report to the President that ten million dollars just vaporized over the Brazilian rain forest.”
The other man seemed unintimated. He pulled a brightly colored diagram from his leather briefcase. “This is an electromagnetic satellite image of the compound at the genesis of the explosions.”
“What are those lines?”
“They appear to be high intensity lasers coming from this device in the middle of compound, and targetting the incoming cruise missiles.”
The secretary looked baffled, and finally shook his head. “Reagan would love it.”
No one bothered to correct the troops’ misconception. They believed the explosions were the cruise missiles pounding the compound into oblivion. That was good for morale. And as dawn became noon, humvees tore through the jungle, escorted by helicopters and fighter jets. The amalgamated army closed like a giant hand on the unblemished compound.
And as the army approached, smooth discs, merely a meter in diameter, erupted from the jungle. The enemy had an air force after all.
It was over quickly. The discs were too fast and maneuverable to be hit by the fighter pilots. They navigated at such speeds that the acceleration would have killed any living thing inside. But there were no living things inside. The same type of laser which effectively dispatched the cruise missiles also took care of fighter jets and helicopters. They died quickly.
The real horror awaited the ground troops.
“We gotta turn back! They‘ll kill us all!”
“Push forward! Push forward!”
“They‘ll carve us up! We can‘t do this without the air force!”
“You can and you will! Push forward!”
“Here comes one of them saucers!”
“They can‘t hit us down here!”
The disc glided overhead silently, ignoring the troops. A wave of relief swept over the men as it moved off.
“Push forward!” The commander did not let up.
The disc flew over again. This time, a cloud of green gas sprayed down upon the troops.
The cyanide gas burned the lungs of the unprepared soldiers. In a stretch of several horrible hours, they all suffocated or drowned. Even today many of the bodies have never been recovered.
Again, the compound was motionless and silent. Now, there were no cruise missiles, no helicopters, no fighters, and no soldiers to oppress it.
“Mr. President, that is an extremely risky course of action. Global politics could easily be destabilized by such a unilateral act. Brazil would never approve it.”
The President nodded. He understood the ramifications of the request. He had seen enough in his time to know the it was no longer time for pleasentries.
The ICBM streaked through the outer atmosphere. It was not bound for the compound, however, but the sky above it. The blast went off in the upper atmosphere, sending an invisible shockwave of electromagnetic energy down unto the compound. It‘s unlikely there would have been any visual indication on it, but no one really knows because all the satellites were knocked out by the blast.
The edge of pulse caught some South American cities as well; lights went out, small fires erupted. Bank transactions were lost. This was all just collateral.
The single helicopter passed effortlessly over the smoldering ruins of its predecessors. The special forces team hunkered inside were to be the first humans to see the compound. At least, the first humans who were part of civil society.
It was a pretty simple affair. Several flat, gray buildings. A set of radar and other sensor arrays. The anti-air laser.
The helicopter set down on a flat spot of dirt in the middle of compound. The team jumped out, rifles pointed in all directions.
A disc had crashed nearby, but there were no other signs of man or machine. The whiffing of the rotor blades was the only noise.
“Alpha team, take the rear compound. Bravo team, forward compound, move out!”
The teams swept across the compound.
“Blast doors in the rear compound, closed.”
“Opening in forward compound! Possible access point!”
“Alpha team, move up!”
In seconds, a dozen highly trained, armed soldiers surrounded a blast door which had not quite finished closing when the EMP hit. It stood several feet ajar, easily large enough for the soldiers to enter. Beyond the threshold, only darkness greeted them.
A blast of light shown from the lantern into the compound. Bleak metal walls lined with small doors was the only response. The team entered cautiously. Footsteps echoed off the floor as lights dimly reflected from the dirty walls. Behind them, metal clanged.
The soldiers spun.
A figure, half raised.
Two shots in rapid succession.
The figure fell.
“Shit! It‘s a civilian!”
“What the hell was a civ doing here?”
“He‘s still alive!”
The tribal man‘s body was covered in blood. He gasped. “They... are... coming... shielded... ground...”
No one stopped to ask why an illiterate tribal man from the rain forest was speaking English. They were all focused on the sudden creaking of metal all around.
“Grab him! Move out! Go! Go! Go!”
The team raced back to the waiting helicopter. As they rose from the soil, the compound erupted with the sleek black monkey-looking robots bearing glistening knives. The helicopter pulled away from the compound, leaving an angry swarm of machines behind.
“How did they survive the EMP?”
“Back to the carrier! Stat!”
The man survived, barely. Implanted in the base of his skull was a small version of the mental network device found near MIT after the disappearance of the Transhumanist Collective. It had been destroyed by the EMP blast. The man‘s claims were extrodinary, the kind that tabloids would carry.
He recounted being abducted from his village and taken into a dark room. He says suddenly a whole wave of new thoughts in an unknown language washed over him. How, precisely, he learned the language, no one knows. But the fact is, he did. He learned a lot of things. And most importantly, he remembered them.
“The organizational structure is as follows: There are approaching half a dozen controllers who run the entire organization. They give orders, through the mental link, to approximately two hundred thinkers. I was a thinker. Some of the thinkers have original academic background. Many do not. Since all the knowledge was instantly telepathically shared, it didn‘t matter. We worked on the problems, solved them, and in turn controlled the machines. Sometimes a person would control one machine directly. Sometimes the artificial intelligence would allow a person to control several machines with autonomous behavior.”
The military analysts wrote furiously. They did not look at the man, whose dark tribal color seemed to clash with his crisp elucidation.
“The compound consists of three primary divisions. The top division is surface buildings and equipment and several sub-ground levels of storage, staging and manufacturing. The primary division is separated from the top division by a heavy armor and shielding layer. The EMP knocked out everything in the top division but did not penetrate any further. Most of the robots and thinkers stay in the primary level. There‘s also a lot of manufactoring there. I was lucky, I suppose. I was able to get to the top level without attracting suspicion. The controllers were too focused on everything else. Beneath the primary level is another layer of armor and shielding. Then there is a hundred foot radius sphere that houses the controllers. If you wanted to defeat them, you‘d have to destroy the controllers. Destroy that sphere.”
The analysts stared. A general stepped up into the light. “Can you help us defeat them?”
The man looked downcast. “Frankly, I‘m not sure they can be. But I will try.”
A lot of people didn‘t believe his story. But the President did. The military did. He answered any questions they asked. He knew all the details. A neuron of the mind of the Transhumanist Collective had fallen into their laps. And it was talking to them.
It was the turning point, in a sense, to human victory. But the confidence such inside intelligence brought them was itself almost the downfall of the human race. The enemy was now known, at least to the highest levels of world government. But the war was far from over.
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