20 May 2011

The War of the Artilect: Chapter 20

Posted by joncooper

The Artilect had spent days scanning the depths of space, searching in vain for any signs of the swarms. Its sensor network spanned tens of thousands of light-years, and it was tuned to detect even the tiniest bot. The Artilect was confident that nothing could escape it. After a relentless search it was convinced that the bots were truly gone, but it continued to watch just in case. The question of where the bots had come from continued to fill it with uncertainty. Something is wrong here, the Artilect thought, and I am simply not wise enough to see it.

Then something completely unexpected happened – something that had not happened since the Artilect was created. Over the span of less than a second every one of the Nehemiah IV probes disconnected from him. The Artilect had been connected to the probes for thousands of years; his earliest memories consisted of analyzing their data streams. Yet, in an instant, they all went silent. It was as if they had all simultaneously disappeared from the galaxy.

The Artilect immediately sprang into action. Time passed very differently for him than for humans. Had the Artilect been a human it might have taken him seconds, perhaps minutes to respond. But as a machine it could respond in nanoseconds. Without stopping its search for the bots it turned its attention to the millions of probes that had been terraforming worlds just beyond the edges of the network.

With a tremendous sense of relief the Artilect saw that the probes had not been destroyed. They were all still there. It tried to reconnect to them but they refused to respond. In fact, the probes would not even acknowledge his hails; his communications were simply ignored. Concerned that something had gone wrong, the Artilect attempted to force a connection and log directly into their computers. This, too, was denied. As his attempts met with failure after failure the Artilect eventually realized the truth. My connection with them has been severed and my login rights have been denied, it thought with alarm. But how could this have happened? Who could have done this?

As the seconds slowly crept forward the Artilect stopped its futile attempt at communicating and began watching the probes. Its sensor network gave it realtime data on the location of every one of the probes, even though the telemetry feeds from the probes themselves had been cut off. As the Artilect watched it noticed that the probes were abandoning their terraformation projects. One by one they stopped what they were doing and left their orbits around planets and stars. The Artilect noted their change in course and extrapolated it, puzzled. It took it only a moment to calculate that all of the probes had set a course that would bring them directly to the Artilect’s doorstep.

The Artilect again tried to communicate with the probes, but its attempts were met with more silence. Something is deeply wrong, it realized. Some outside force has taken control of the probes and has given them new instructions. But who could have done this, and why? What purpose is served by recalling them to my home?

Then the Artilect remembered the swarms. Could this be the next battle – a new army from the foe that we cannot find? Is it possible that this is not a malfunction, but an attack? Are the probes coming to aid me, or to destroy?

As the probes powered up to enter hyperspace the Artilect decided that it had to act immediately. I do not know what is wrong with them, but I dare not let them enter the network until I know what is going on. There are simply too many unknowns to grant them safe passage.

To defend itself against the swarms the Artilect had built a series of barriers along the border of its territory, which used the same technology that he had placed into the Alpha Class ships. Before he had used it to immobilize the swarms so that he could destroy them. Now he would use it to freeze the Nehemiah probes in space so that he could find a cure for what was wrong with them.

The Artilect activated the protective barrier it had created and then watched as the probes launched themselves into hyperspace. Less than a second later the millions of probes slammed into this barrier. The alteration of spacetime forced them to drop out of hyperspace and they became ensnared in the soft white light. It took less than a minute for all of the ships to become frozen.

That will give me some time to study them, the Artilect thought. It scanned its borders and verified that all of the ships were motionless. That was when it noticed that some of the ships had begun to move.

What is that? the Artilect thought with alarm. This field should disable them entirely! The Nehemiah probes were not designed to operate under these conditions. Yet, something was happening. At first only a very small percentage of the ships were slowly creeping forward, but then something happened. The neighboring ships began changing, copying the configuration of their mobile neighbors. Soon they, too, could move forward – and some of them were starting to pick up speed.

The probes have changed over the years, the Artilect realized. I knew their powers were great, but I did not realize that they had learned how to modify spacetime itself. Now that they are faced with an obstacle the probes are sensing which ones have the knowledge to overcome it, and that information is being copied to all of them. The probes have the ability to work together – and that is a terrifying prospect. I do not believe this was ever intended. Even as it watched, many of the probes had regained full functionality and were once more preparing to enter hyperspace.

The Artilect frantically altered the configuration of the barrier, adding random instabilities. This stopped some of the probes but not all of them. As they kept advancing he fought to keep them off-balance. Yet, despite his best efforts, all he could do was slow them down; he could not disable them entirely.

They are learning, it thought with alarm. They understand what I am doing and they are adapting to it. This border field will not hold them for much longer. They are too intelligent and I am unprepared to fight them. Much of my knowledge has come from techniques that they have learned over the millennia, and I simply cannot dominate them as I did the swarms. If anything, it is likely that they have abilities that I lack.

There is only one thing I can do now, it thought sadly. I will have to destroy them. Something has gone wrong with them and they are no longer functioning according to specifications. I will have to wipe them out and rebuild the fleet. It is a loss, but it must be done.

The Artilect then took its massive fleet of Beta Class ships and launched them into the border zone. The billions upon billions of starships surrounded the Nehemiah IV probes and began radiating a white pulse of energy. The energy passed harmlessly through the Nehemiah IV probes, which were unaffected.

At this point the probes realized that they were under attack. They began firing at the small spherical ships that surrounded them. The Beta ships tried to fight back but they were unable to inflict any damage at all. Within minutes the probes had completely obliterated every last one of them.

Then something happened. The vast majority of the Nehemiah IV probes were scattered around in deep space, trillions of miles from any star system. But one of the probes had managed to enter one of the networked star systems, at which the Artilect had installed equipment to maintained the border field. After fighting its way through the protective barrier the Nehemiah IV probe reached out and interacted with the star, altering its chemistry in a sudden and drastic manner.

The Artilect had no time to respond. The equipment it had installed on its border worlds was designed only to maintain the defenses against the swarms; the Artilect had not deployed anything that could give it the ability to directly fight the immensely powerful Nehemiah IV probes. The Artilect watched, helplessly, as the star exploded into a supernova, sending a shockwave racing toward the planet. It would take only minutes for the shockwave to hit the planet and obliterate it, destroying the equipment on that world and bringing down the protective barrier. That would free all of the surrounding ships and allow them to jump back into hyperspace.

As the shockwave raced through space the Artilect frantically contacted the Stewards of other nearby star systems and hastily constructed a new barrier further inside its territory. He knew, however, that this was temporary. The old barrier will go down and the probes will advance and get caught in the new barrier. But already I see more probes advancing toward my stars. They will simply continue to advance, light-year by light-year, until they reach me. It is only a matter of time before they arrive at my doorstep. How can I fight this?

Without stopping its war of attrition with the probes, the Artilect reached out and contacted the Stryker family. It is time they knew, he decided.

Subscribe to Comments

2 Responses to “The War of the Artilect: Chapter 20”

  1. Jon,

    I was in the start of Stryker #2 at the start of the weekend and then my one year old got sick and ended up being awake all night Saturday. So through the night I finished Stryker #2 and most of this one. Now it’s Wednesday and I’m through chapter 20.

    Keep up the great work! I have thoroughly enjoyed an explicitly Christian sci-fi series. A rare find in deed.



  2. Thanks! I’m glad you have enjoyed it. I do wish there was more Christian sci-fi – it’s definitely hard to find.