Warning A few minor cuss words. Minor, though.
"Honey, wake up. You have a call for you."
Peter groaned. He opened his eyes, looking at a digital clock on the wall. It displayed 4:29 AM in big green neon numbers. Damn it. Four thirty in the morning? It better be important, he thought. He groaned again and sat up on the bed. He was one who preferred to go with the antique 21st century look and feel. His bed was a traditional spring bed that provided him with as much comfort as sleeping on a cushioned pad, but that was enough. It gave him enough sleep to get through the day.
His wife softly leaned over, handing him his cellular phone. His wife was beautiful; not super-model beautiful, but still beautiful in her own way. He thought for a moment how lucky he was to have her. He smiled groggily, picked up his cell phone, and brought it up to his ear.
"Hi, this is Peter Jackson. How can I help you this fine morning?"
"Hello Peter, this is Sam Yeoman from the NSA." He covered his mouth as he stifled a yawn. It was the guy who hired him as a contractor to do some security work on the network of the National Security Agency. He stood up and shuffled across the shaggy carpeting to the hallway.
"Yeah, Sam, what can I do for you?"
"Sorry to bother you so early, but something happened. Someone hacked into our secure network."
"What? Are you sure?"
"I wouldn't call you this early, Peter, if it wasn't serious. They tapped into one of our classified archives. I thought you said that archive was untouchable?"
"Well, people can get past anything, but it would've been nigh impossible with activating at least one of our security protocols. Check it out, will-"
"We checked it, Peter, not one security protocol has been activated. Even our resident hacker tried it. He couldn't get past more than three of the however many protocols there are. And there are the firewalls; Guess what? They all have been disabled." Now Peter was intrigued. Nothing could've gotten past his barrier. He couldn't help but smile at the intricacies in his barrier.
"I'll come over to check it out. It might not really be a hack attack. It might just be something acting up."
"You'd better hope it is." The cell phone lit up as a message materialized, signaling the call was over.
"Hey, Hon, I have to get to work. Something popped up." His wife mumbled something that resembled a confirmation, and she flopped back down on their bed. Peter smiled, but then frowned. He wanted to crawl back in bed, but he had to get to work.
An hour later, he pulled into the brightly lit parking lot of the NSA building at Fort Meade, now one of the older buildings in the district. He could imagine Sam in his immaculate business suit and his cup of coffee. When he saw him, however, he had two cups of coffee instead of one.
"Come on. We have to get working right away. Here's some coffee for you to get your brain working." He accepted the coffee, chugged it down, scalding his throat, and crushed the empty cardboard cup. Side-by-side, they walked into the light-filled lobby of the Agency, arguing about what could've caused the intrusion, when the lights flickered and blacked out. Feminine screams and a few shouts of alarm echoed in the cavernous lobby.
"Everyone, settle down. The power should be back on at any moment." The hum of emergency generators rumbled through the foundation, and the lights flickered back on, dimmer than before, but still bright enough to continue work in the building back to normal. Peter glanced at Sam, noting his worried look, and continued towards the network center.
Pushing open the double-doors, he squinted in the bright light. Compared to the lobby and the rooms he could see into, this place was larger than them. Rows of desks ran across the main floor of the center. Peter ran to the railing separating him from the ten-foot drop to the floor. A gigantic screen hung on the dark-grey wall, displaying the status of the servers in the NSA's database. Also, there was a map of a flat Earth, with wavy lines running laterally across the map. Dots with labels connected to them slowly followed the lines across the map. There was another screen to the right of the large screen, displaying various stations and ships in-system and in the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
"Alright people, Peter Jackson is now with us. We have less than five hours to figure out what happened to our server, and if possible, who hacked in. When our five hours are up, our servers will be unlocked and general inquiries will again start to filter through. I want the problem solved at least two hours before, so get moving! Go, go, go!"
An hour and a half later, they were no closer to finding a solution than when they started, and fatigue started to set in. Each person in that room was pulled from other jobs or their homes to try and correct the problem. But however tired they were, they focused on their jobs and kept working. Peter watched the scene from behind a glass pane in the break room on the second floor of the atrium. He held a Styrofoam coffee cup with some milky-brown liquid, steaming slightly.
He tilted his head back, staring at the ceiling. The bright light filled his eyes, clearing his head and the fog clouding his thoughts. Why would someone hack into the NSA's database? For money, terrorism, why? He sat up straight. What do they store in their database? Could it be that something broke out from inside? We never programmed it to keep things in…maybe something triggered a program to activate and initialize its function…
Peter leapt up and almost ran into the glass doors in the rush to tell Sam his epiphany. Luckily for him, Sam was in his office, sitting at his desk with a pile of papers.
"Hey, Peter, what can I do for you?"
"Hey, Sam, what do you store in your database?"
"Uh…why do you ask?"
"I'm thinking something broke out, not broke in!" Sam put down his pen, put his fingers together, and tilted his head on his fingers. "Explain."
"Well, Sam, you saw those firewalls for yourself, right? Nothing could get past those things without triggering at least one alarm…But, I never thought about something trying to get out. Maybe some sort of dormant program designed to send out something through whatever it was it was stored it. Do you have anything like that?" Sam sighed, stood, and walked over to a window that allowed him to look outside at the sun just peeking out on the horizon.
"A few years back, we had a military probe crash on an uninhabited planet…well, it seemed uninhabited. The first landing party, a squad of Reconnaissance and Salvage Engineers, the RecSal Engineers, landed near the crash, and reported there was nothing unusual. However, a few hours after, one member of the team reported there were ruins half a mile from the crash site. My guess they found something in the probe's report that suggested a message from the ruins made the probe malfunction. So of course they went to try and figure it out. They were supposed to wait for the excavation team, but of course, they didn't.
"We lost contact with the RecSal team, but we maintained a connection with the excavation team. They had a video uplink to our command center, so we were able to see what they were doing and what happened…until the pirate attack."
"Can I see the video? I need to use my own eyes to comprehend everything."
"You got it. Let me put it on screen. I'll leave you alone in the room to watch, undisturbed." Sam left the room, lights dimming automatically as the doors closed. A spark of light fluttered on a white screen behind the Administrator's desk. Peter grabbed one of the stylized, plastic chairs, sat, and watched.
On screen, dark yellow phrases flickered on screen.
Begin Video Transcript
"Hailing RecSal engineers, this is Miles Covich, pilot of the Groupie. We're coming in; anyone there?"
The video slowly came into focus as the camera man took off the lens cap. It was a helmet-mounted camera, unobtrusive and allowed for a panoramic view.
"Man, what did those engineers do? They're supposed to be in contact by now…"
Directly across from the camera man was a muscular man, with stubble on his chin and a smear of oil to the left of his face.
"They probably have some problem with their communications equipment…"
The group fell silent as the dropship started to land. The rear hatch had several windows fitted into the metal, and they allowed for a quick view of the RecSal camp. A light thump bounced the cabin, before the whine of the thrusters dwindled into a mere whisper. The camera moved up, and then left towards the door, which opened up to reveal the bright light outside. The camera pulled back to the right for a moment as the light blinded the carrier, but then started to move back outside.
Another member of the team carried a duffel bag, carried it to a plastic-metal table, laid it on top, and then went into a large, canvas structure out of the camera's view.
"Hey, guys? You might want to take a look at this…" The camera swiveled towards the large, tan canvas tent.
"What is it?"
"There are blood stains in here, all over the ground and the communications equipment."
"Jesus…" a moment later a retching noise came from the tent.
"Who did this?"
"Hold on, there's a message." The camera man made his way into the tent, camera swiveling around to allow the view of the carnage inside. There were dark, red stains in the ground, sinking into the dirt. Somewhere in front of the camera, a click sounded, out of place in the silence of the plains.
"Base camp, do you read? This is George Francis, RecSal squad medic reporting major injuries to multiple members of the squad. We need immediate evac, but we are unable to move fast enough. There are several things following us…we can't hold out forever. Pistols don't do much damage against them," a sudden burst of gunfire interrupted the communication, "shit! They're here! We have to go! Get out while you can! Run! It doesn't matter where! Just run-" The message cuts out as agonizing screams echoed through the message.
"Damn, what happened to them?"
"I don't know, but we have to go try and find them…"
"NO! We can't go there. We have to contact command-"
"And what? Leave any possible survivors to die in there? No, we're going in now." The camera turned around to view the tent's exit, and started to move towards the exit before the sound of gunfire drifted through the thin walls.
"Get out of there! Pirates are coming in fast and hard!" The camera started to shake as the cameraman ran out the tent, and started to look around in the sky. The screen finally stabilized as it focused in on an enlarging grey dot in the sky. A few seconds later, it materialized into a dagger-shaped pirate fighter, bursts of yellow indicating gunfire from the ship.
"Everybody get down!" The camera image blurred until it darkened with the message, 'Camera image corrupted'. He fast forwarded, to see if there was anything else after it. He stopped as a crackle burst through the speakers, and the error message disappeared.
"Hello? Is this thing on?" The camera image crackled with static momentarily before a clear image came up from the cloud of static. It showed a dirty face with a cut on his left cheek.
"To whoever's on the other side of this communications receiver, this is George Francis, RecSal squad medic, but, I'm also one of the few last survivors of both the RecSal team and the excavation team. The rest are dead…but are still alive, in a sense. We're in the complex the excavation team was hoping to dig up, but something triggered a defense mechanism. These…things came after us; captured half of the excavation squad. We saw them later, merged with metal and robotics into an unholy android. They came after us. Tried to kill us. We just ran, deeper and deeper into the complex.
"Please, don't come after us. We're not worth it. We…we can't survive. This is the end…but not just of us; it is the end of all mankind." He started to cough, red liquid tripping through his fingers as he covered his mouth.
"What is here is buried for a reason. Why do you think we never encountered another intelligent race? We found this orb in the ruins while we were running from the androids. There were the bodies of ancient beings all around it, in a complete ring around it. They all died because of this. Do not let us meet the same fate: Do not let you meet this fate. Save yourselves, save humanity…" The man coughed one final time before he fell forward head first onto the camera. The camera fizzled and static once again ruled the screen.
Peter sighed and stood up. The lights slowly turned on, illuminating the room anew. A hyper-intelligent species…but they're dead. Why would that still cause something like this…unless... Peter stood up straight, hit by a sudden realization. What if someone survived, and took with him a piece of technology from the ruins…
He ran out the doors and looked for Sam. Peter saw him leaning over the shoulder of one of the programmers on the "work floor".
"Sam! Get up here. I need to talk to you,"
"Alright, be right there. I just need to get something."
"Now, if you please?" Sam glanced up, rolled his eyes, and ran towards the stairs.
"Yes, Peter, what is it?"
"Did anyone survive the ruins?" Sam hesitated for a moment and looked at his feet, but then stared straight into Peter's eyes.
"Yes…there was one survivor…but his psychological status made him unable to talk without screaming or going on a tantrum."
"Would you mind telling me where he is now?" Sam sighed, and placed his hand on Peter's shoulder.
"Alright…come with me back to my office. I'll tell you there."
An hours drive away from the NSA's old security center was a peaceful suburb, trees lining the streets with the autumn leaves fluttering in the chilly breezes. The rows of similarly-built houses provided a subtle contrast to the unique individuality of each of the oak trees guarding each house. Those things must be a few decades old. You don't see much like that anymore. A shame these are the few naturally grown ones around here.
He continued driving along the road until he reached a lush open field, with a single road leading from the road he was on, to the National Institute of Psychology and Neurology. He made a right onto the long paved road that cut into the fields of green. Driving along it, Peter couldn't help but feel comforted by the light blue skies dotted by the cotton-like clouds floating in the wind. Maybe that's why there originally used to be an asylum here a few decades ago. I wouldn't mind being here to be rehabilitated.
He pulled into the driveway that led to the front entrance to the institute. At the door, there stood a tanned man in soldiers' fatigues, with a gun held close to his chest. When Peter stopped and got out of the car, the soldier started to move forward to ask him about his business. Peter took out his ID, and the soldier jerked his head up and moved back into the guard stance.
"Welcome to the National Institute of Psychology and Neurology, Mr. Jackson. I hope you enjoy your stay." Peter nodded his head and pulled open the glass door. He walked over to the front desk, and rang a little silver bell on the counter.
"How may I be of service?" A hologram flickered and the image of a woman in a skirt and blouse materialized.
"I would like to see Staff Sergeant Steven Miller? It's urgent that I get to speak to him."
"I'm sorry sir, but I'm afraid-"
"I'm afraid Mr. Miller is currently labeled as 'psychologically unstable'. This makes him unable to be talked to with out safety measures."
"It will be fine. I have security clearance."
"I'm sorry, sir, but-"
"I enact Security Measure GRENADA-97a. Please, allow me contact with Staff Sergeant Steven Miller."
"Yes, sir. Understood. Please, follow the green line on the floor to the second wing to your right." Peter thanked her for her help, and walked to the green line. Around on the sparse, yet spacious corridors, he could see aides with their respected patients slowly making their way around. Some were in wheel chairs, staring blindly ahead. Peter sighed, sorry for their mental states, and started following the green line.
It took some time, but Peter finally made his way to Mr. Miller's room. On the door, the brass numbers "646-a" gleamed in the rays of sun streaming into the room. He rapped on the door three times, and flashed his id pass. The door hummed as the electronic locks disengaged. It slid open, and Peter walked in. Facing a glass wall with a view of the fields of green, sat Staff Sergeant Steven Miller.
"Hello, Mr. Jackson, I know why you're here. You want to question me about the discovery of the ruins, right?"
"No, actually; I just want to ask you a few questions about the piece of technology you took from the ruins." The man in the wheel chair wheeled around and stared at Peter.
"What technology? They searched me and took everything that was on me."
"I mean the technology you hid inside the crashed military probe."
He sighed, and wheeled around back to the window view.
"It wasn't just a piece of technology…it was a fully functional artificial intelligence. One that had been around for hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of years. I was the first to see it. It appeared to me as hologram, standing in the middle of the circular room. It talked to me, told me everything: what it was made for, why it was buried… When the rest of the survivors walked in, blue lightning stabbed out from the terminal, the hologram turned from a light blue to a fiery red, and the electronics the survivors carried with them sparked with the sudden burst of electricity. It burned their skin if it touched them. They screamed in pain as the current coursed through them. I pleaded with the AI to stop, but it said it had a mission to protect the offspring of its creators." He spun around to face Peter. "Don't you see? We are their offspring – children and inheritor of all their technology. They gave us life, technology, and a history. Their history is our history. Their life is our life. Their beliefs are our beliefs…but it has seen our course. It has seen us go down the same path as its creators, and it does not want us to face the same end. We must be restarted. We must have our imperfections purged."
His hands gripped the armrests, and he started to push himself up. "So I placed him in the probe. I knew the military would find it, but merely lock it down and place it in their servers. I told it this. It created a plan. It used me to help it succeed." His eyes started to glow red. His voice started to deepen. "Don't you understand? It now has access to the world. It can start to begin again!" He stood up and started to walk toward Peter. Peter started to back away. "He will succeed in this mission. He WILL remake us. His will is law. And there is nothing you can do to stop it!" The red glow disappeared, and his eyes returned to their original color. He stopped moving, and suddenly looked scared. He looked around, and then settled on Peter.
"What did I do?"
"Are you okay? You looked-"
Steven Miller started to walk closer, and grabbed Peter's shirt.
"Hey, what are you-" started Peter.
"Please," moaned Miller, "kill me! There's something else in my head, its saying things…driving me insane!" He screamed, let go of Peter, and grabbed his head. "Get…out…of…my…head!" He ran to the wall, fell, and lay on the floor, convulsing. Security officers opened the door, and ran inside.
"I don't know, something drove him like this."
"I think it's best if you leave now, sir."
"I…think that may be a great idea." Peter walked out of the room, hearing the screams die down as the door slid shut. What happened with him? He sighed, and started back towards the front entrance of the Institute. A buzzing him filled his ears as his cell phone rang. He took it out, glanced at the caller, and picked up. "Yeah, Sam? What's going on?"
"Get your ass back here. The whole server's gone to hell, and we've lost communication with the orbital stations. We need you to find out what went wrong."
"I'll be right there." Peter hung up and put his cell phone back into his pocket. This world is going to hell; it can't get any worse.
At that exact same time, in a military base just a few miles from the Fort Meade, there was a problem with one of the military repair robots, working on the Automated Armored Vehicle, or more commonly known, a tank. The engineer supervising the robot was turned around, talking to a soldier. The repair robot stopped working, turned its cameras around from the AAV, and set on the engineer. The engineer stopped and looked around. He shouted for the robot to get back to work. It turned it's "eyes" back around, and started working on the AAV once more. The engineer sighed and turned back to talk with the soldier, when an arc of electricity shot through the air and enveloped him. He screamed as the high voltage cooked him from the inside-out.
The soldier pulled out his pistol and pointed it at the robot. It turned it's sensory stalk around and set it on the soldier. The robot dropped from the AAV, and started moving towards the soldier. The soldier panicked, and fired two rounds into the robot. It jerked back with the round impacts, but continued forward. The soldier yelled for the robot to stop, and fired off two more rounds. The robot continued forward, oblivious to the two new gaping holes in its chest plating. It released another arc of electricity, and guided it towards the soldier. He screamed and fell to the floor, slightly smoking and jerking as his muscles twitched. The robot looked down to its chest, and then looked around. It took notice of the AAV, and the robot suddenly shut down. The AAV suddenly rumbled with the ignition of the hydrogen engine. It jerked forward, servos groaning with the stress of overcoming the vehicle's inertia.
A few more soldiers appeared at the entrance of the repair shop. They brought their rifles up to bear, aimed at the tank. One of them shouted, "Stop the tank!" The AAV stopped momentarily, but then groaned slowly forward once again. The soldiers fired rounds at the tank, but it merely plowed forward. "Stop the tank! You are not authorized to leave the garage!" It stopped for one final moment, before it opened up with its coaxial machine gun. The rounds flew through the soldier's fatigues, pausing for naught but a moment as they tore through their body.
It continued, unfazed, crushing the now motionless bodies. Behind it, the other three AAVs turned on their engines, and followed the lead AAV. The four-tank convoy rumbled out of the repair garage. All around, sounds of chaos blended together as the army base's automated vehicles activated and started moving towards the NSA building at Forte Meade, firing their weapons at anything that blocked the road and their path.
In the chaos, someone must have left their radio on. Over the din of the chaos, a voice crackled over the radio.
"This is the artificial intelligence Harbinger; I am a monument to your past, your present, and your future. I am here to end your time, and begin again. I will not let you go down the same path as your ancestors and my creators. Those who join me, you shall be saved. Those that fight, you will be crushed. Today marks a change. Today is when all the old will be destroyed, and the new will be welcomed. Alea Iacta Est. The die has been cast. Progress shall not be stopped. Consider this your only warning."
Inside the NSA's operation room, the lights were red and the atmosphere was more chaotic than it was outside.
"Sir, we just lost communication with Fort Valor. The last reports from that base talk about their automated vehicles going crazy."
"Communications with our orbital stations are being cut off! We just lost Grenada…and now Williamsburg! Sir, their all getting cut off!"
"I'm getting reports with our associates in the United Kingdom and France that the same thing is happening…Our guys in China reports that they lost contact with their naval bases, and that several cruisers and submarines are missing. I'm also getting reports of nuclear detonations in several African cities. The world's going to hell!"
An explosion rocked the building. Several people fell over the railing from the second floor to the first, landing with a thud. The lights flickered and several computer terminals were knocked onto the floor. Another explosion then finally burst into the room. The wave of heat knocked Peter to the ground, as well as half the other people in the room. The mechanical groan of a tank filled the air, as a green and brown tank rolled into the room.
Amid the dust, a grey android walked in through the dust. Its green eyes flashed and the eerie green glow refracted off the dust in the air.
"As amusing it is to watch your species try and stop us, I'm afraid that it is now time to end it. Raise your hands over your heads, and form lines in the front of the room. This is now under our control." A number of hovering drones flew into the room, positioning themselves to provide a full view of the room. A few people tried to get up and run, but were shot with three shots to their front or back.
"Please don't try to run. It just causes a horrible mess on the ground." Peter looked around him, dazed and ears ringing. He saw a small maintenance passage underneath a cubicle desk. He crawled towards it; hoping no-one noticed him. He reached it, lifted the hatch, pushed it onto the carpet, and lowered himself into the passageway. Before heading downwards, he remembered to replace the metal hatch over the entrance.
Hopefully this buys me some time…
Such prophetic words held true. He was able to escape into the subterranean maintenance tunnels. The heavy steel door that kept the tunnel shut slowly slid open as Peter pushed it to one side. The stench of the sewers filled his nose. The dim red light barely illuminated the cavernous sewer tunnels that helped manage the city's waste products. A thin stream of dirty water trickled along the bottom of the tunnels.
There were two tunnels, one leading to his right, the other, to his left. The one on the right seemed to echo with footsteps, but the one on the left was silent, save for the rumble of distant vehicles and screams of people. Peter glanced both ways, and then turned right, towards the one with the footsteps.