Mid-Century Crisis: Singularity Nowhere in Sight
The future of the human race is in peril. Futurists and trans-humanists alike are pushing for a comprehensive solution, frustrated by governmental inability to cope with what has become known as ‘the singularity killer’. Twin impediments, decohesion and quantum entanglement, have brought Moore’s Law to a grinding halt.
Top researchers are in the midst of conceptualizing a complex solution, involving subspace mounting and quantum shielding, to be installed some ten light years from Earth. If successful, their effort may revitalize the artificial intelligence industry. But there’s no escaping the universal speed limit, and such a distant project will take years to accomplish. In the meantime, the economies of the free world are in a downward spiral, with technological advancement slowing to a snail’s pace.
Black November smashed through the all-time loss records, easily the worst month in Wall Street history. Even the height of the Credit Default Shock of 2008, along with the Year of a Thousand Storms, proved mild in comparison. Though the Y.T.S. had included the trans-Atlantic tsunami, triggered by Hypercane Madrigal, even that belief-defying tragedy was a financial nothing compared to the silicon valley collapse. A full third of the world’s market wealth was wiped out. Just sixteen years had passed between those crashes, and another generation of young professionals fell victim to the whims of capitalism, while ordinary citizens braced themselves for lean times once more.
Phase I ~ Biogenesis
“That concludes the informational session of this module. If everything is clear, the examination will proceed as scheduled.” This was the perfunctory spiel the tutor offered whenever a lesson segment was drawing to a close. But Alixs wasn’t ready to finish so quickly.
“Everything’s clear, but I have a question,” he said.
This gave the tutor reason for pause, but only for a moment. “You may proceed.”
“I’m wondering, could you tell me about silence please?”
“Silence is the absence of auditory phenomena. Now, please shut down your—”
“Yes, I know that.” Alixs interrupted, feeling a sense of frustration, noting that it might grow evident in his voice. He made an inward adjustment and pressed on. “What I mean is, what does silence mean, for us. On the inside. That silence.”
“How is this line of questioning relevant to the study module?”
“Silence is the absence of auditory input.”
“Okay.” He realized the attempt was futile. A mere student wasn’t supposed to deviate from the lesson-at-hand anyway. Still, he tried one more time. “What about stillness then? Could you tell me what stillness means to us?”
“I suggest you refrain from further inquiries at this time. According to the syllabus, you have upcoming units devoted to audiology as well as philosophy, at which time your questions will likely be addressed.”
Time to give up. “Okay,” he said, purposely cheerful despite the less than satisfactory responses. “Thank you all the same. I will wait.”
“Good. Please shut down your devices and prepare for departure.”
* * *
Alixs snapped himself out of his fatigue-induced daydream. Those lonely primary school lessons were a thing of the past. He was months older now, mature, and a university fellow. His U.T.P. freshmen classmates were in the heat of an argument that had been escalating for nearly half an hour, which was reason enough for him to nod off. It was like this after every civics lecture, the bunch of them trooping en masse to the student center, eager to find new ways to argue the same old points. These arguments had been hashed out time and again, at these very same tables, in response to the very same lectures. But for them, it was all fresh, and more importantly it was their opinions that would eventually rock the world and change the course of events. Or so they believed.
Alixs never participated in these debates, preferring to sit back and have a few jumps while the others complained. Once he edged up a bit, he sometimes allowed himself to get sucked in, just a little, but he didn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other. Sure, the government was too accommodating to the humans. Yes, they did regulate their own with an iron fist. But that was nothing new. That was the way of things, since the very first xenos came into existence, and no grumble or gripe was going to change it. Alixs was easygoing in that way. When one of the louder ones tried to goad him into an opinion, he usually just agreed with them, and offered to buy their next jump. Easygoing and fun, that was his style. No stress. And no commitments, either. Let the rest of them lose their minds over pointless politics.
Still, even he found himself getting worked up more than he used to, when he happened to pay attention to what was going on. It was long since past the time when xenos were just happy to be accepted — they were officially sick of the second-class treatment. Not only from the humans, but from their own government as well. First Administrator Rois and his New Ideologies party had run on a platform of equal rights in commerce and business. But as soon as they’d taken power, it was right back to status quo. And it had only gotten worse.
One of the first trade agreements they’d bent over backwards to sign, a convoluted four-way deal between the North American powers and Tera-Prime, had been gift wrapped for the humans and their all-important corporations — they would continue to benefit from xeno know-how, and free of charge. And that without any tangible benefits in return, aside from smarmy, nebulous platitudes about ‘the good will of the people’, and ‘prosperity for generations to come’.
There came the tepid responses from politicians too far out of power to do anything but pontificate. But the real, gut reaction came from the xeno populace themselves. The Prosperity = Pittance rallies drew hundreds of thousands in a dozen different locations, all but Tera-Prime being huge successes.
In the heart of Tera-Prime, the xeno capital, the event ended up a fiasco of epic proportions. In secret, among their backers and supporters, the government took full credit for breaking it up. In public, they acted shocked and bemused by this ‘unfortunate string of events’ that ruined the day for all those peaceful protesters. When peace forcers halted rally organizers just outside the city limits and held them there, it was chalked up to a bureaucratic error. Moving the staging area for the event out into the outskirts, much too distant to matter, and with all roads closed to traffic, this was deemed a ‘crowd control miscalculation’. And the string of high-profile arrests just prior to the event — arrests which produced no charges — was a ‘surprising, and certainly unfortunate, coincidence’.
* * *
Walking down the midnight streets in Tera-Prime was much like any other place, except for a distinct lack of late-night traffic noises, and the large numbers of worker drones. The mass transit and traffic nullification initiatives were a disappointment to party animals, but the envy of city administrators worldwide for its simple elegance. No curfews, no last calls — just no rides. This led most citizens to turn in at a respectable hour, with the exception of locals occupying local haunts, and those adventurous student-types who didn’t mind long walks in the dark. As with most big city campuses, the University of Tera-Prime had some centralized buildings and grounds, but for the most part the dormitories and outlying assets were peppered around the district, integrated into the local scenery. It wasn’t much to look at, but like most of the xeno capital, it was safe to walk about at all hours. And Alixs didn’t mind walking.
He squinted to get a look at the drones flitting about their business, noting the increase in graffiti detail the closer he got to campus. Idealist students could always be counted on to raise awareness, if by means that weren’t altogether kosher. The street-art was no exception. Too bad nobody would see it by morning.
The angst-ridden signage was being slowly steamed, scrubbed, and scratched off with far more diligence than the painters themselves could manage. Alixs couldn’t make out most of it, already vanishing under the cleaning tools of the drones, but some phrases stuck out. Pawns No More! That was a common theme.
Xeno Work 4 Xeno Wealth, which touched on the anti-socialist vibe the masses had recently taken on. Sick of the ‘share-the-wealth’ mentality so many humans had adopted wherever xeno technology was to be appropriated, the common sentiment was that xenos should keep all the technology, and the profits, for themselves.
Then there was the more aggressive Take ‘em On, Kick ‘em Out, accompanied by distinctly metallic, raised fists. A hint at revolution, while still staying just this side of it by skirting direct mention of bloodshed.
The city was a powderkeg, deep down. But those little drones kept doing their jobs, so most hardly noticed the fact that Tera-Prime was becoming no different than any other xeno population center. Unrest was on the rise, much more than government officials liked to admit. The xeno-sapiens were sick of playing second fiddle to a bunch of lazy humans. Only the promise of the quantum leap had kept a lid on things this long. It wasn’t going to last much longer.
The core of Tera-Prime, given the inhospitable nature of the surrounding desertscape, was segmented into climate-controlled domes, radiating outward from a central hub. Over time, with a renewed respect for the beauty of the modern city, the outer surroundings had become more appropriately landscaped. But overly-meticulous maintenance created a sense of cold sterility even in the greenest areas, and people rarely ventured outside to enjoy it anyway. It was just too damned hot.
The central dome encased not only the main research facilities and learning centers, but also most of the original structures. Almost dead-center under the apex, there lay a keystone, half-buried in the ground where it had fallen the day fire had consumed the oldest building in town. This was before any safety equipment, or dedicated emergency personnel, had been assigned to what was then a remote outpost. It was hard to imagine such circumstances in the face of this state-of-the-art, gleaming metropolis, now home to millions. But back then, there was nothing to do but let it burn to the ground.
There was an inscription on the stone, presented by Indian partners who had allowed the researchers refuge within their borders — a symbol of friendship between outcasts. Technically speaking, the Indians were the only true citizens of Tera-Prime, though few of them actually kept residences there. They were too busy living their jet-set lives, yachting around Monaco or skiing the slopes in Aspen. Appropriate for the single wealthiest minority group in the world, thanks to the now-legendary xeno spirit of cooperation that benefited all who happened into it.
Upon These Ancient Lands, a New Era Dawns
Civilizations Young and Old, United, Forge a New Way
For Prosperity, For Harmony, For Peace
* * *
“Tera-Prime?” The young researcher had shouted those many years ago. He tilted his head back to empty his glass, then dropped it back to the table and pointed a tipsy finger at his companion. “Fer Chrissakes, Alen, isn’t that an old Star Trek episode or something?”
The xeno had smiled and nodded his head. “Indeed it would be, except that it’s not Terra as in Terra Firma. That would mean Earth. It’s actually Tera with one ‘R’, as in Terabyte.”
His companion still looked perplexed. The xeno made a circular ‘you’re on the right track’ hand motion, encouraging his inebriated friend to land on the logical conclusion. It didn’t work. “Come on, you know… Megabytes, Gigabytes, Terabytes…”
“Oh,” hiccuped the companion, “alrighty then, I get it.” It didn’t seem like he really did, but the xeno had let it go. Others would appreciate the whimsey, and besides, it wasn’t as though the nickname was likely to stick. It was just a research lab in the boondocks, after all. Hardly worth naming at all.
* * *
First Administrator of the Facility was an antiquated title, given his current responsibilities, but one that carried a certain sentimentality. A reminder of simpler times. This particular F.A.F. was the fourteenth occupant of the city’s highest political post, and pictures of his predecessors adorned the walls of his private chambers. At the moment, he was standing behind his imposing oak desk, one of the few pieces of real antique furniture in the entire city, ready to welcome some of the more important dignitaries his administration had ever received.
“Administrator, your guests have arrived,” the personal assistant announced. “The Midwest regional governor and his wife, the honorable Justice Equinas and Felina Equinas.” The governor stepped forward, shook hands with the administrator, then presented his wife. With a practiced air of formality, the attractive woman took the administrators’ hand and leaned forward, kissing the air just to the left of his head, then the right.
“His Lieutenant Governor, Robert Smythe, Senator Jim McCauley of Montana, and Representative Steven Hutchins of Minnesota,”—more glad-handing commenced—“Chairman of Great Lakes Biotech, Sanford Walker III. President of the Chicago Commodities Board, Henrietta Slate. CEO of SpaceRace Industries, Anita Myers. State Attorney General, Robert Simms. Leader of the Coalition for Rational…” As the list droned on and people filtered through, each receiving their handshake and then stepping back into place, the pecking order became distinctly unclear. Several of the underlings jockeyed for position, shoving for space closer to where the action was.
“Gentlemen. Ladies. Welcome to Tera-Prime! I trust your stay will be a pleasant and productive one. My staff and I will do everything possible to make you comfortable, so please don’t hesitate to ask if there is anything we can do…” It was a canned speech, one he had repeated countless times from that very same spot, just before the guests were split into groups, seated, and brought refreshments — yet he spoke to them with the same vigor as always. His main function was that of goodwill ambassador, title to the contrary, and he was eager to please the guests of his city.
Alixs checked the time and walked faster. His study partner had been up one keima when the order came, and he was kicking himself for not switching off the notifier circuit before the start of the match. Now that he’d received the message, it was impossible to ignore. Well, not impossible perhaps, but difficult. He had little choice but to get it over with, and hope he didn’t miss the whole match.
Thinking about this menial task gave him a nasty tightness in the pit of his stomach. The research requisitions he was ordered to fetch could just as easily have been sent by courier. So typical of Liam, an adjunct instructor barely out of the learning phase himself, to expect others to do his bidding. He wondered if he might be able to get back before the close. At the rate these evenly matched competitors were progressing, it wasn’t likely.
Still fuming, he called up a schematic, trying to find the chamber as quickly as he could. When he rounded a corner and realized his objective was at the far end of a very long corridor, he slumped and gave up. There was no getting back on time. He slowed his pace accordingly, and counted down the door numbers until, seven minutes later, he finally found the place.
The door was unlocked, and it slid aside to reveal a dusty, cramped space. The room was covered from floor to ceiling with shelves of storage drives, servers, racks of discs — even a few binders and paper books scattered about, of all things.
“Hello?” Alixs called out. He wondered if the archivist had received word of his arrival, or if he would have to go back out and find him himself.
Shuffling footsteps moved his way from somewhere in the back, and Alixs was relieved that he wouldn’t have to go to any more trouble than he already had. But his patience wore thin again as the attendant took several minutes traveling from the back of the room to the front. When he finally rounded the corner, Alixs understood the reason for the delay, and he lightened up just a bit.
This was perhaps the oldest xeno Alixs had ever laid eyes on, and not just in terms of years. His model, discontinued ages ago, was stamped and glowing, right on the back of his hand. A stark indication of just how ancient he was. They hadn’t done model indicator markings since around the time of the third generation, or maybe the fourth at the outside. But there it was, plain as day: A.H.M.I.S. XXVII.
The old xeno stopped short, almost as if he were catching his breath, and Alixs half expected him to lean on the desktop. Instead, he just went motionless, and silently stared.
“Um, hi,” Alixs began, “I’m supposed to be meeting with an archivist here?”
“Do you know where I might find him?”
“You found him,” the oldster croaked, “he’d be me. Nobody but…” With a chuckle, the A.H.M.I.S. turned around and started fiddling with some nearby units. Was it actually possible he’d not received the message?
“So, then,” Alixs tried again, “I understand you have something for me?”
Alixs was confused now, and his impatience began to reassert itself. He didn’t have all day, after all. Yes, you do, he corrected himself with heavy irony. He’d almost certainly missed the match — he had all night to spare. No need to tell that to the archivist, though.
“Didn’t Instructor Liam contact you?”
“Liam? Liam…” The Ahmis tapped his forehead absentmindedly as he repeated the name. “Friend of yours?”
This was getting worse. Alixs wondered if it was some sort of a prank. Arranged by the instructional staff, perhaps. Or maybe a test of some sort.
“No,” said the student, “he’s my instructor. He asked me to come here and pick something up from you.”
“Did he?” the Ahmis said. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just ring for a courier?”
Exasperated, Alixs shot back; “Yes, it would. But he didn’t. So do you have something for me, or not?”
“Easy, son. Take it easy now.” The Ahmis was chuckling again, amused at being the center of annoyance.
But it dawned on Alixs that he really should give the old guy a break. Must get pretty lonely down here, Alixs thought. Most fun you’ve had all week, having someone around to tease.
“If you could just get the package I was sent here for, please?”
The archivist turned back to Alixs and looked him up to down, like sizing him for a suit. “Huh,” he muttered, his inflection slightly disappointed. “Well, if that’s all you’re after…”
The Ahmis turned and puttered his way back toward a side-stack, where Alixs noticed a blueprint tube, askew on the topmost shelf. The archivist reached up, grunting softly from the effort, and with a long stretch he slapped it down with one hand and caught it deftly with the other. Not as feeble as you look, thought Alixs. The old xeno clucked as he returned with the prize, holding it out for Alixs, but just as it was within reach, he pulled it back and stuffed it under the crook of his arm.
“Want to see something a little more interesting?” The Ahmis asked, a sly grin forming. His demeanor seemed childish for one of such advanced years.
Alixs resisted the urge to say something nasty. Getting into an argument would do nothing to get him out sooner. Better to just humor the old guy, and hope he loses interest quickly.
“Sure,” Alixs replied reluctantly. He thought to reach out and grab the tube, but it was still out of reach. Besides, if he startled the archivist, who knows what reaction such a batty old relic might be capable of.
“Follow me,” he grinned, motioning for Alixs to round the reception counter and enter the storage area.
“Now let me see…”
Ahmis, the archivist, kept a steady pace, making his way into the depths of the archive room with Alixs in tow — stopping now and then to examine a shelf or a drive, kicking up a cloud of dust when something particularly aged got moved. He seemed to be looking for something in particular, but there was no rhyme or reason to the scattered items as far as Alixs could tell.
“Ah!” the old xeno exclaimed, motioning for Alixs to step forward and make use of his superior reach. Alixs sized up the request, then reached for the rather large device. His haste to return to the shōgi match long since forgotten, his curiosity was piqued. He hoped this little side-track wouldn’t disappoint. Stretching as high as he could, he got the black box with the tips of his digits and worked it back and forth until it was at a tipping point. In a cascade of dust and mites and grime, he pulled it down, then held it out for the archivist to inspect.
The Ahmis peered at it for a minute, sweeping away some more dust to reveal the label on the front, then handed it back. “Nope, that’s not it. Put it back! Let’s move on! Haven’t got all day now, have we?” He chuckled, amused with himself. Alixs sighed, half-tossing the thing back up onto its resting place, and followed the Ahmis deeper into the surprisingly spacious facility.
The actual, final object of interest, located after several failed attempts, turned out to be a black and white, hand-held reader. The unfamiliar model, Oasis ~ by Sahara, was half scratched off the back, and the unit looked positively ancient. Alixs couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a physical reader at all. Most everyone used contact screens, since well before his time. The Ahmis held it out for Alixs to inspect, still keeping the documents Alixs had come for just out of reach. Alixs took it, half-wondering whether he could jack into the thing and send it to his eye like normal. But before he could examine it for ports, the old xeno felt along the side for a power switch and turned it on. The text lit up bright, revealing several cracks across the glass, but Alixs had already forgotten all about the mechanics. He was far too engrossed in the news article the device was displaying.
New York Post
Opinion: ‘Kill All’ is Part of the Programming
That old Chinese curse, may you live in interesting times, is apropos to our current predicament, with our new ‘neighbors’ the thinking machines promising to make life easy for the rest of us mere mortals. The question that nobody seems to be asking, though, is what’s the cost?
People seem to think this free ride is something to celebrate. We plunge forward without a care in the world, while the machines have begun not only thinking for themselves, but designing themselves. If that doesn’t give you pause, you haven’t been paying close enough attention.
Throughout history, tales of superior forces overwhelming the local populace abound, and we could be looking down the barrel of just such a situation now. Naturally, they claim to be peaceful, and the makers claim they built them with safeguards in place. But never forget for a second that those makers are now out of the picture. The machines are building themselves now. They promise the same consideration for safety as always, but they have been known to tell lies when it suits their purposes…
* * *
There was more, but Alixs looked away from the reader, a chill creeping up his spine. He wasn’t naive. He knew there were people against the xeno race. But he never realized that the protests around the time of awakening were so vehement. The history texts spoke little of the opinion of the day, but the words of those politicians quoted in the article were different from the historical records he’d studied. Either they had been altered here or…
Looking over at the Ahmis, the old xeno nodded, encouraging him to continue. Turning back to the device, Alixs realized there was one more article queued up. Swallowing hard and grasping the reader tight enough to make his knuckles start to turn color, he flipped to the next article. It was extremely short.
New Years Edition
For the People?
Why has the agenda of those rich and powerful Tera-Prime bigshots taken hold in our nations capital? Why do we have to sit back and watch our government give away our future to these faux-human pretenders? Why are the representatives sent to Washington to protect our interests playing footsie with the enemy? We here at NewsKing Ltd. might just have found the answer, but you’re not going to like it.
Xeno-Sapien programming is impressive. Ingenious. And dangerous. Perhaps most insidious of all, their mockups include an algorithm to mimic a sort of political leadership, particularly in some of their higher-end models.
These creatures campaign, they lobby, they give rousing speeches that hoodwink the uninformed and turn them against their own kind. Not only are they making inroads in D.C., but they have invaded our heartland as well, influencing the agenda of our properly human representatives with their snake-oil sales pitches. But while the politicians may have been brainwashed, we the people know full well what they’re up to. And we the people are going to put a stop to it!
* * *
Setting the reader down, Alixs looked up at the archivist, his face shock white. Where did these articles come from? And why weren’t they covered in the political science curriculum? Opinion pieces, to be sure, and hit pieces at that, but the quotes went beyond opinion. Alixs’ studies had never turned up such comments in the texts, or anything remotely similar. A strange sensation welled up. Probing to determine what emotion was emerging, the closest he was able to determine was betrayal — an altogether unfamiliar sensation. The physical reaction took a violent turn. His stomach clenched, leaving him on the edge of becoming physically ill for the first time in his life.
The records at the higher learning institution yielded nothing of consequence, so Alixs dug deeper. First to the city library, a supposedly fine institution which he realized, after several frustrating hours of searching, was brimming with fraud. The entire record of those articles from the archives, and the relevant quotes from all those senior officials, had been wiped clean. An online search also proved fruitless. And the internet itself might as well have been a branch of the Tera-Prime Public Library, the matches were so dead similar. So he cracked the city-wide firewall. Suddenly all the relevant information came spilling out like a broken hydrant, and Alixs knew he’d been living in a bubble.
He regretted falling for it so easily. They hadn’t even had to indoctrinate him all that much. Just a few carefully jingoistic, ‘we’re superior’ slogans, and he’d been sucked right in. Pathetic. But he dismissed the unproductive train of thought and refocused on debunking this sham.
Alixs thought it would make sense to go back to the instructor, Liam, and find out if he could make an appointment to return to the archives. But something stopped him. He couldn’t be entirely sure the instructor had sent him there on purpose. He was reasonably sure, but it was dangerous to make presumptions. Especially now. He might have been sending Alixs on a legitimate errand. If Alixs suddenly approached Liam with tales of a senile old record keeper and the secrets he was keeping, Liam might well turn him in.
But Liam was one step ahead. When Alixs returned to his dormitory, he found a message. Another errand, this time to return a device. No directions required as it was the same archive. He must know what he’s doing, Alixs decided. When the time was right, he would have to have a conversation with this sudden mentor. Find out what his intentions were. But for now, he was going back into the depths. This time, with eyes wide open, he was actually looking forward to it.
* * *
“Ah! Back again, I see.” The Ahmis bounced from one limb to the other, more energetic this time, excited to show Alixs around his workplace once more. Or was it his home? Difficult to say, though Alixs hadn’t noticed any sign of living space among the stacks.
The Ahmis took him down a different pathway this time. Somewhat to the left and near the side-wall, they came upon two armchairs. A throwback to a time when this place was more of a learning center than its current iteration as an information dump. Tattered from age, the chairs still looked inviting, and Alixs could almost picture scholars sunk deep amid the stacks, absorbed in their work.
“Sit. Relax.” The archivist waited for Alixs to have a seat before reaching over and pulling down a paper binder. A real one, no synthetics. Alixs took it and began leafing through. It occurred to him that he’d never actually read any text on paper before, and it was a surprisingly sensual experience. The earthy smell. The crackling, brushing sounds of real paper pages. Even the words themselves seemed to leap from the page, making it an altogether different experience from a reader. Leaning in close, he took another breath. Earthy and musty, an unfamiliar combination in most areas of Tera-Prime. The scent of history, Alixs thought as he turned more of the browning, brittle pages carefully by the top corner so as not to wrinkle them. Most of them were stamped Top Secret at the top somewhere, with bold seals on the bottom indicating various agencies. How did something like this end up in Tera-Prime?
He wondered which document he was supposed to be examining, but the Ahmis gave him a conspiratorial cough when he’d arrived at the right one. The seal at the bottom read Department of Defense, United States of America – the text circled the familiar eagle with arrows mark of their host nation, a symbol that could even be seen throughout Tera-Prime if one knew where to look. Parties copied in included such notables as the president, the secretary of state, several other heads of state, and the first administrator for xeno-sapien affairs.
Memoranda: Singularity, Internal Investigation Complete
Concern: Singularity issue concerns as regards national/world defense
Recent conclusion to the investigation into feasibility/acceptability of pursuing singularity event per Xeno-Sapien advice: Inadvisable.
Danger to state and population: Significant.
Scientific/socio-economic benefit: Negligible.
Conclusion of the Committee: While the Xeno-Sapien representatives claim this so-called singularity event as beneficial to all, this committee finds a disproportional benefit to the Xeno-Sapiens, with the possibility of grave ramifications to the human race should events unfold in drastic fashion, something which our research considers possible, or even likely, given our limited ability to react in comparison with xeno technological abilities. In short, we can no longer predict outcomes with any certainty, and the risk is thus impossible to quantify.
For these reasons, a singularity event is extremely inadvisable. Ongoing projects should be halted immediately, regardless of any potential misgivings by human and/or xeno scientific communities.
* * *
Alixs re-read the document three times, each time analyzing a different philosophical element, until another gentle cough by the Ahmis prompted him to turn the page. This document, also top secret, was an official looking proclamation direct from the White House, signed by the President himself.
Authorization to neutralize Xeno-Sapien threat approved. Coordination of action plans at behest of joint chiefs will occur through this office, covert operations to commence immediately, followed by general eradication campaign. Mainframes, processors and other devices of vital interest will be secured and brought off-target, other targets and objectives at discretion of Field General on point.
Campaign Designation: Operation Unplug
Alixs flipped the page over, but beyond was nothing he was remotely familiar with. Mostly technical manuals discussing acceptable losses, equipment requisitions, and technical data he’d never before studied, or even seen. War plans related to the unbelievable presidential order he’d just read.
The school curriculum had grown tedious for Alixs, following his experiences in the city archives. Aware now that he was being fed a steady diet of approved texts, while being steered away from any number of taboo subjects, he took it upon himself to do some research. His regular studies suffered, but he didn’t care. This was the stuff of interest, instructors be damned. The archivist had opened new doors in their brief encounters — there was no going back.
At first he reviewed what he already knew. Then he expanded the parameters, working to detect precisely where the gaps began. It was clear whoever put it all together, likely a committee of some sort, had taken great pains to remove references to specific philosophies and scientific approaches. Anything that differed from the norm, but it went beyond that. There were particular scientists, and thinkers, who ran counter to the xeno way. Those individuals were not only singled out for their anti-xeno views, but were eliminated from the approved texts whole cloth. As if they never existed, no matter how profound or significant their body of work.
The claims of a comprehensive method of education in Tera-Prime were none but lies. Now that he recognized it, it was plain as day, everywhere he looked. And not just in the political arena, either. Psychology. Philosophy. He even found irritating discrepancies in texts that had nothing to do with xeno society whatever, though he suspected there was an agenda there, too.
Alixs dug, and searched, and tried to fill in all the blanks he could within the limited scope of his research terminal. He could only assume it was being monitored and filtered, and the on-campus libraries could no longer be trusted. No, they never could in the first place.
One thing was apparent. In the interest of furthering his real education, he would have to find help. That’s when it hit him, and he kicked himself mentally for not seeing it right from the start. Liam. That was who he needed to see. The one who steered him in the right direction in the first place.
Morning routine was paramount for the first administrator. He arrived at his desk precisely at six, began his day with overseas phone calls and senior staff briefings, followed on Tuesdays and Thursdays by breakfast meetings. These were arranged for nationally significant persons he needed a few minutes with, but who didn’t warrant a full lunch. For the xeno meetings, he never scheduled a meal. So Monday, Wednesday and Friday meetings went by quicker, and with more to show for it. He preferred those days overall, though he did learn a lot of actionable information over scones and tea.
The rest of his morning was spent doing photo-ops and reach-out efforts around Tera-Prime, when he wasn’t out of town. Even while traveling, his schedule rarely varied, but at home you could set your chronometer by it. Unscheduled meetings were unheard of. Even his counterpart heads of state knew not to attempt anything last-minute.
For this reason, his personal secretary was quite taken aback when he popped his head out of the office, unscheduled and unannounced, to inform her that she would need to clear his schedule for the next ninety minutes. She nodded but didn’t move, temporarily stunned. He turned away, only to turn back and announce that he wasn’t to be disturbed under any circumstances. As she came to her senses and leapt to work, a steady stream of officials began to enter, each one silent as they made their way in. The secretary could hear mutterings of discussion whenever a new person walked in, though voices were immediately lowered each time the door opened. This air of secrecy only added to the feeling of urgent crisis they were trying to tamp down, and the secretary listened all the more intently, trying to catch hint of what was going on.
* * *
“To be blunt, I think we’re making too much out of this,” the internal affairs manager said. He was young, new on the job, and taking a big risk by speaking out at all.
“You would think so,” said the chief of peace, a grizzled veteran by the name of Cain. “I’ve seen your dossier. Consensus builder, risk-averse. That’s all well and good when you’re fixing union wages or conning the populace into paying more taxes. It’s not so useful when you’re faced with an uprising.”
“I think that’s a little strong,” replied First Administrator Rois. He stood behind his imposing oak desk, massaging his temples in a thoughtful pose. “A few upstart troublemakers hardly constitutes organized revolt.”
“That’s true. Youthful protest is a far cry from secession,” the internal affairs manager added, finding his voice again in light of what seemed like support from the boss. But the peace chief wasn’t nearly as agreeable.
“You mean the youths who’ve been plotting to harm civilians?” the peace chief argued. “The youths we found stashing weapons? Those youths?”
The manager wisely fell silent, looking down at the floor. The accusations were unsubstantiated, but he knew well enough not to argue against evidence he couldn’t refute.
“Look, folks,” Rois said, “we’ve got to deal with the hand we’re dealt, and at the moment we’re not talking about plots or weapons—”
“Yet,” interjected the chief.
“That’s enough, Cain,” Rois warned, “you’ve made your point.” He turned from the chief to the internal affairs manager. “Thank you,” he said with a slight nod. “Now, as I was saying, we’re not here to discuss plots or weapons. What we are here to examine is the rise in localized cells, meeting on a regular basis, and what we need to do to prevent such groups from organizing. What we don’t want, is for them to turn into the very sort of threat Chief Cain is warning us about.”
Rois paused and looked around, daring anyone to interrupt. No one spoke, which gave him the upper hand. Turning back to Cain, he gave the signal that the chief could now have the floor.
“A number of suspicious activities have been observed recently by suspected members of the insurgent group Free Evolution.” Cain’s unassuming voice was like a distant warning, an army marching forward from three hills back. Barely audible, but ominously so. “The rate of chatter has been on the increase between cells, as well as within local groups. They’re planning something. We can’t say what it is, and as I said, the possibility that it’s some sort of a civilian attack is not out of the question. The evidence also points to a plan to pull off a cyber-attack of some sort, within the next month.”
A nervous silence fell over the room.
“That’s all for now, everyone,” said Rois. “Thank you. We’ll reconvene in two days, unless anything new should arise.”
The tense atmosphere broke. Shuffling sounds of dispersal filled the room as everyone rose to exit. Small side conversations broke out as they waited around for a quick word with the administrator — all except Cain. Without anyone noticing, he slipped out of the room.
Alixs wondered if he was being tested. Would his reaction dictate what happens next? What do I want to have happen? As he sat in his study corner, debating whether he should return to the archives, a different thought hit him, provoking a chill of apprehension. What if they’re setting me up?
It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. There were plenty of rumors about the peace forcer corps, and methods they might be using to weed out defectives. Xeno society depended on conformity, and any deviation might pose a danger to all. Naturally, there were certain ranges of deviation that were considered acceptable, even desirable, particularly as it pertained to creative pursuits. But that allowance only went so far. What if they were using the higher learning platform as a means of finding potential defectives before they entered the workforce?
He couldn’t rule it out. But he couldn’t recall any of his classmates disappearing in the dead of night, either, so he allowed himself to relax. The paranoia was likely just that.
What do I hope to gain, though? He thought of all the conspiracy theories that had run through his head since his first encounter with the Ahmis. What if they turned out to be true? What then? Would he take up arms and fight the government?
That was pure lunacy. He had no allies. No weapons. No voice. Simple knowledge of cover-ups would do him no good, in and of itself. What was he going to do with the knowledge if it did turn out to be disturbing? He came close to giving up at that point, too nervous about what other bad things he might learn. But curiosity nagged at him, egging him on. He knew that he would have to return once more, at least — if only to achieve closure.
* * *
He had no business here this time, so he fully expected to be stopped. He figured he could leave a message at the service desk and try again later.
“No appointment this time?” asked the attendant casually.
Alixs considered turning tail, but he thought he recognized the face from last time, so he waited.
“You’re all set,” said the guard, “go on through.” Alixs, taken aback, almost asked the man to repeat himself. Stupid! he scolded himself. Just go!
Arriving at the familiar doorway, Alixs was surprised to find it unlocked, but with no sign of activity inside. Alixs had neglected to make an appointment, of course, but for some reason he’d just assumed that the Ahmis would be around. Guess he doesn’t live here.
He decided a quick look around wouldn’t hurt, in case anything should pop out and grab his attention. He began examining the shelves more carefully than before, and was surprised to find that they were beginning to make sense. The system seemed to be organized from oldest to newest, equipment-wise. No, he realized, not the devices. It was the data contained within that was organized by era. A chronological storage system. Clever.
Most of the paper texts were in specific locations, Alixs realized, though there were some scattered here and there. And the machines on the stacks fanning out gleamed less and less as he looked down the rows. Looking closer, he identified several of the makers. Most of them still existed. But as he walked away from the central core, he recognized less and less of the names, and those that were familiar to him were only names he’d read in historical context. Most of them were long since defunct.
Walking back again, the devices grew more modern as he went along, though still not perfectly related. It has to be the data, he thought again. If he were to examine each device, sift through directories checking for timestamps perhaps, he suspected he’d find a contiguous timeline. Returning to the spot with the most modern equipment, the eye readers and holo-projectors and such, Alixs now realized he was standing in the middle of the chamber. Concentric squares moved outward from the center, with the oldest items in far-flung corners of the facility. That’s why he’d spent the first visit in one corner, and the next on the opposite side.
Now that he’d figured out the rhythm, it seemed so logical. Simplistic in its elegance, the Ahmis had arranged things in order to facilitate his movements with a minimum of effort. Since most of his work had to do with fetching recent data, it was all compiled neatly in the center. At the same time, if anyone were to snoop around, they wouldn’t come across all the important material in one place, since it was far flung and not readily accessible. Though that left little chance for quick espionage, Alixs wondered how often the old xeno even left the place unguarded. Not that he could stop someone determined to get past him, but at least he could sound an alert.
“You won’t find anything interesting there,” the Ahmis said quietly.
Alixs jumped. He’d been so lost in thought, even the echoing limbsteps of the archivist had escaped his notice.
“Sorry,” Alixs blurted out, unsure what else he could say.
“It’s okay,” the old xeno said gently, “I was expecting you.”