6 May 2011

The War of the Artilect: Chapter 16

Posted by joncooper

It took only a few moments for the Sentinel to transport Amanda Stryker to the ruined planet Xanthe. Instead of taking her straight to the Vault, however, he instead brought her to the top of a small hill that overlooked what was left of Star City. The hill offered a commanding view of the entire area. As far as the eye could see there was nothing but dust, rocks, and barren land. Overhead was a pale sky that was empty of clouds. The ground was parched and all signs of water were long gone. The city itself was nothing more than a crumbling ruin that was slowly being engulfed by the surrounding wasteland.

Amanda stared at the ruined city in horror. “What have they done to this place?”

“They abandoned it,” the Sentinel replied. “They left it empty, and time took care of the rest.”

Amanda said nothing for a long time. She simply stared at the city, taking it in. “I remember what it used to look like,” she said at last. “In fact, I was there quite recently. I never imagined that one day it would look like that. It’s a strange feeling.”

“That is what time does,” the Sentinel replied. “It turns greatness into ruin. In the beginning the Lord God cursed the ground for the sin of Adam, and that curse is still in effect. One day it will be removed and death will no longer reign over all of us. But that day has not yet come.”

Amanda nodded. “I know. But that’s not what I mean. This makes me feel old, Steve. I mean, it took thousands of years for Star City to turn into that ruin down there. You can see the tremendous amount of time that’s passed. And yet, I was there when the city was still young. I’m old, Steve – really old. Older than you, even.”

The Sentinel nodded. “You and your friends are all that’s left of a civilization that disappeared long ago. In fact, the people in the Vault below are distant relatives that were not born until many centuries after you were. Even for them you are ancient history – a distant memory out of a long-forgotten past.”

“And to think I’m not even fifteen yet,” Amanda said. “You know, I really don’t care much for time travel, Steve. This just isn’t right.”

“I’m sorry,” the Sentinel replied. “I know. But it had to be done.”

Amanda closed her eyes and spread her arms. Although nothing appeared to happen, the Sentinel could sense that she was dispersing billions of nanites into the planet’s atmosphere.

“Are you going to terraform the planet right now?” he asked in surprised.

Amanda opened her eyes and lowered her arms. “Oh, no. Not yet. I just wanted to get the nanites into position. It’s going to take them a few minutes to saturate the air and the ground. I figured I’d go ahead and have them start replicating while we go wake up the pod people.”

The Sentinel nodded. “Are you ready to go down below?”

“I think so,” Amanda replied.

A moment later the two of them appeared in one of the giant chambers of Vault 37. Amanda gasped at its size. “This place is huge! I had no idea it was so large.”

“There are a hundred thousand pods in here,” the Sentinel explained. “The vast majority of them contain living beings. Only a few have gone dark.”

“So what do we do now? Do you know which one belongs to Adrian?”

“Hello?” a weak voice said in the distance. Amanda looked around and saw an elderly man slowly rise to his feet. The man started shuffling down the long aisles in the distance. “I am so sorry – I believe I fell asleep. I’m not used to being outside my pod, you know.”

Amanda and the Sentinel walked toward him. When they reached him Amanda held out her hand. “I hope we haven’t disturbed you,” she said.

Adrian shook her hand and looked at her in surprise. “I don’t believe we’ve met, miss. My name is Adrian Garza. I know who your friend is but I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”

Amanda smiled. “My name is Amanda Stryker. I’m pleased to meet you.”

“I haven’t met a young person in a very long time,” Adrian commented. “In fact, I didn’t know there were any young people left. Are you related to the other man that I met on Tonina?”

Amanda shook her head. “No, he’s just a friend.”

Adrian nodded. “I understand. So how can I be of service? Do you bring us news?”

“The battle is over,” the Sentinel said. “The swarms have been destroyed and the endless war has come to an end. Your world is no longer in any danger.”

“It is over already?” Adrian said in surprise. “I thought it would take days, perhaps even weeks! How much damage was done to the swarms?”

“They were completely eradicated,” the Sentinel replied. “Not a single bot was left.”

“So you were successful, then,” Adrian said.

“You don’t seem very excited about it,” Amanda commented.

“I just find it difficult to believe,” Adrian explained. “It only takes a single bot to recreate all of the swarms. I don’t mean to doubt you, miss; it’s just that we’ve lived with the swarms for a very long time, and it’s hard to grasp that they’re really gone. I believe our leader will want to hear of this.”

“Can you take us to him?” Amanda asked.

“I can,” Adrian replied. “In fact, he’s right over here.”

The ancient man slowly shuffled down the long aisles of pods until he came to the one that contained Elder Lane. Adrian went over to the console and pushed the button that would unseal the pod. A few moments later the leader of Vault 37 was sitting up in his pod, blinking his eyes. He stared at Amanda with a look of surprise and terror. “A child! A real child! Who are you, and where did you come from?”

“I’m not a child,” Amanda replied sharply. “I’m a teenager! There’s a big difference. I’m fourteen years old, you know. I’m not just a kid.”

“Fourteen?” Lane gasped. “But – that’s impossible! There are no children left. The last ones grew up millennia ago.”

“Well, I’m here,” Amanda said.

“Are you one of those aliens from deep space?” Lane asked, as he climbed out of his pod.

“I’m not an alien,” Amanda protested. “I’m just as human as you are! In fact, I was born on Mars.”

“Mars?” Lane asked, incredulously. “Do you mean you’re from Sol? But that system has been locked for centuries! Is that were you people are from?”

Amanda sighed. “My family and I escaped Sol before the Wall was erected. It was a long time ago.”

“But you’re just fourteen!” Lane exclaimed. “By the time I was born the Wall was already five hundred years old. How–”

“Time travel,” Amanda said. “It’s pretty simple, really.”

Lane’s eyes suddenly opened wide. “Oh. Of course! That would certainly explain why you people suddenly appeared from nowhere. But–”

Adrian interrupted. “They bring news of the war, sir. The battle is over and the swarms have been destroyed.”

“That is correct,” the Sentinel replied. “The swarms have been completely eradicated. They will never trouble you again.”

Lane turned pale. “But – you can’t be serious! I find this very difficult to believe. Are you quite sure?”

“Oh yes,” Amanda said. “They’re gone all right. They won’t be back.”

Elder Lane was silent for a few moments. “So what happens now?” he asked.

Amanda smiled. “Now it’s time to give you back the future that was stolen from you. We can help you leave your pods and rebuilding your civilization again. I’m sure Adrian has told you all about the wonders of Tonina. You are more than welcome to join us – we will gladly share our network with you. You don’t have to hide from the swarms anymore.”

“I see,” Elder Lane said. There must be some way I can stall, he thought furiously. I have to buy us some time so I can come up with another plan. But what can I say? She must not be the one who has the gift of discernment; otherwise it would have been over by now. How can I turn this to my advantage?

“Is something wrong?” Amanda asked.

“Sorry,” Elder Lane apologized. “I’m just a little confused. I know so little about you! Who is the leader of your civilization?”

Amanda thought for a moment. “I guess I am,” she said at last.

“You are?” Adrian asked in surprise. “Pardon me for questioning you, but what about the Artilect? I thought he was in charge!”

Amanda shook her head. “No, he just runs the network. Technically he answers to me.”

“But how is that possible? Did you inherit this position from your parents? Are you the daughter of some past king?”

“No, it’s not like that,” Amanda said. She hesitated. “I guess you could say that I was given administrative rights over the Artilect a long time ago, and I’ve had them ever since.”

“Are there others that also have these rights?” Elder Lane asked.

Amanda shook her head. “No, not really. You see–”

The Sentinel interrupted. “Amanda, didn’t you have a task you were going to perform? I believe it will take you some time to accomplish it, and your mother wants you to return home at a reasonable hour.”

“Of course,” Elder Lane said. “I’m sorry – I don’t mean to pry. We just know so little about you. If we’re going to negotiate leaving our home world and going into the unknown – well, it seemed like a good idea to understand who we were talking to and who is in charge.”

“Certainly,” the Sentinel said. “And there will come a time when we will answer all of your questions. But for now we need to accomplish what we came here to do and then leave, so that you can think about the future of your people.”

“What did you come here to do?” Elder Lane asked.

“I wanted to rebuild Xanthe for you,” Amanda replied. “I’d like to put it back the way it used to be.”

“Is that even possible?” Elder Lane asked. “Wouldn’t that take centuries to accomplish?”

“Oh no,” Amanda said. “I think I can do it pretty quickly. However, before I begin I’ll need a schematic of Star City – the way it used to be. The only one I’ve got with me was taken in the 19th century and I don’t think you would recognize it. You don’t have anything more modern, do you?”

“Of course,” Adrian commented. “In fact, all of our synthetic worlds contain a recreation of Star City. Here, let me pull it up for you. Perhaps the files will be of use.”

Adrian shuffled over to the nearest console and brought up the schematic. After the file was loaded Amanda closed her eyes and mentally entered the file system. In a moment of time she downloaded the data and analyzed it, until she was sure that she knew what to do. She then opened her eyes and smiled. “I’m ready,” she said.

“But you haven’t downloaded the file!” Adrian exclaimed.

“Trust me,” Amanda replied. “I have what I need.”

An instant later the four of them found themselves standing on a small hill that overlooked the ruins of Star City – the very same hill that the Sentinel had transported Amanda to when they first arrived. As soon as they appeared Elder Lane froze. “What just happened?” he asked nervously. “Where did we go?”

“I’ve taken you to the surface,” Amanda explained. “Now watch.”

Amanda took a few steps forward, then closed her eyes and raised her hands. She mentally connected to the massive network of nanites that saturated every cubic inch of Xanthe. Drawing on the data from the file that she had downloaded from the pod’s computer system, she began giving instructions to the nanites.

To the people standing around Amanda it looked as if the air had suddenly become blurry. Something they couldn’t quite see began moving rapidly. Then, slowly, things began changing. The dust that covered everything melted away, and the parched ground around them morphed into black topsoil. A few minutes later the entire landscape, as far as they could see, had turned from a dingy brown into a rich black.

Then the ground began to sprout, and thin shafts of green grass erupted from the soil. It was as if the ground itself was suddenly exploding with life! Tender shoots shot up, forming saplings that turned into giant trees over the course of just a few minutes. Soon the barren hills were covered in forests. Ancient riverbeds, long ago lost to time, reformed and were soon filled with water once more.

The air around them became fresh and sweet, carrying the scents of trees. Spring was in the air, for the first time in thousands of years. The pale sky transformed into a deep blue sky, and white clouds began appearing. Beneath their feet the black soil disappeared entirely; they were now standing in a deep bed of rich green grass. In the distance they saw birds circling overhead – the first signs of wildlife that Adrian had seen since he entered his pod a lifetime ago.

Amanda knew that it would take time to bring the entire planet back to life, so she focused on changing the surrounding area first. Once the immediate area around Star City had been restored she gave orders for the reconstruction of the rest of the planet. As the nanites continued their work Amanda turned her attention to the city itself.

At first it looked like the city was simply melting. Elder Lane was surprised to see the ruined structures turn into mud and sink back into the soil. Then the brown substance turned green and began glowing with a vibrant energy. Over the course of half an hour the green material took on the shape of buildings. Then the green color melted away and revealed buildings of steel and glass. Giant skyscrapers climbed out of the ground as green shapes and then morphed into actual buildings. The city streets began reappearing, and even the vegetation was recreated.

When all was finished Amanda opened her eyes and turned around. Elder Lane and Adrian Garza were staring at Star City, a look of utter disbelief on their faces.

“There you go!” Amanda said cheerfully. “Consider this a down-payment on your future. You are more than welcome to live here until you’re ready to join us in the network.”

“I can’t believe it,” Elder Lane gasped. “It’s perfect! I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”

“You’re welcome,” Amanda replied. “It was no trouble at all. Is there anything else you need from us?”

“Oh no,” Elder Lane said. “You’ve done quite enough – more than enough, actually. We will be in touch with you again, I’m sure. Just give us some time to process what has happened and work through the issues. I’ll have Adrian contact you in, say, a week from today?”

“Very good,” the Sentinel said.

“Goodbye,” Amanda replied. “It was nice meeting you.”

“The pleasure was ours,” Adrian replied.

Amanda and the Sentinel then vanished.

* * * * *


For a long time the two men just stood there and looked at the world around them. They were overwhelmed at what had just happened. Adrian was filled with wonder, but Elder Lane was filled with terror.

Van Toby and Grant have got to see this, Elder Lane thought to himself. I told them the aliens’ technology was real! They won’t be able to laugh this off. This is serious – much more serious than I thought. No wonder they were able to defeat the swarms! Adrian didn’t tell me the half of what they could do.

“So what do you think?” Adrian asked, interrupting Elder Lane’s thoughts.

“Amanda clearly has great power over the physical world,” Lane said.

Adrian nodded. “She certainly does. She told us that she’s in charge of the Artilect, so I imagine that’s where her power comes from. I’ve been told it’s a machine of extraordinary capabilities.”

“And she is its last master,” Lane said thoughtfully.

“So she said,” Adrian agreed. “What do we do now?”

“Let me ask you a question. Why do we each have our own synthetic worlds?”

“For safety reasons, of course,” Adrian said. “Otherwise–” He suddenly stopped, realizing what he was about to say.

“Exactly,” Elder Lane said. “You know all the horrific things you’ve done to the synthetics that inhabit your world. I’ve done the same to mine – we all have. If you and me and the others all lived in the same world then whoever had the most power would force everyone else to be their slaves, and they would torment them until they died. It’s who we are, and it’s who we’ve always been.”

Adrian looked around him. He stared at the rebuilt Star City. Doubt began to eat at his mind. “Our power is no match for Amanda’s,” he said.

Elder Lane nodded. “We’re nothing but ants compared to her. We may be masters of our synthetic worlds, but in the physical world she has complete control. She has demonstrated a level of mastery that goes far beyond anything we could ever hope to accomplish. What do you think is going to happen now?”

“But what we can do about it?” Adrian asked. “How can we possibly fight such an overwhelming force?”

“I don’t know,” Elder Lane said. “I need time. But what I do know is that we can’t let this happen, Adrian. You know what you’ve done when you had endless power. Do you really believe that Amanda is going to behave any differently?”

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