1 Jun 2011

The War of the Artilect: Chapter 23

Posted by joncooper

Over the past few hours Amanda’s dead planet had undergone radical changes. The frothing gray metal had morphed itself into millions of small, round spheres. Each sphere was roughly six inches in diameter and made of a rough, dull metal. Countless spheres hovered in the atmosphere, with more joining them every second.

“How are things coming along?” Reverend Knight asked.

“I’m almost done,” Amanda replied, her eyes still closed. “I’ve got most of them ready but I don’t quite have enough yet, and I want to build a number of extra bots in case something goes wrong. What makes this so hard is that I have to deactivate all of the probes at exactly the same moment. If I do just a few at a time the probes might figure it out and try to stop it. I don’t know how smart they are but I don’t want to take any chances. I doubt we’ll get a second chance to do this.”

“It is a wise precaution,” he agreed. “I take it the Artilect has been able to keep the probes at bay?”

“I wish,” Amanda replied. “The problem is that his defenses are failing – the probes are getting much better at finding loopholes. They’re already halfway to his home system and they could advance the rest of the way at any moment. We’re about out of time.”

“What about Tonina?” the preacher asked, concerned. “It sounds like–”

“Tonina has never been in any danger,” Amanda said, interrupting him. “I don’t know why, but the probes never went near it. It’s possible that they don’t know where we’re at and are targeting the Artilect specifically. I guess they’ll hunt us down after he can no longer protect us.”

“I hope we never find out,” Reverend Knight replied.

“Me too.”

There was silence for a few moments. “I take it our friendly neighborhood probe has left as well?” Reverend Knight asked.

“No, it’s still there.”

“Really? That is strange. Why has that probe not advanced with the rest of the fleet?”

“I really don’t know,” Amanda said. “He doesn’t appear to be doing any harm, though. It’s just orbiting the sun as if nothing was going on. It’s probably defective or something.”

“It’s hard to believe that one of those probes can be defective!”

Amanda opened her eyes and shrugged. “I know what you mean. But what other explanation is there? The probe certainly hasn’t attacked us. It could have wiped out this entire planet, but it hasn’t. It just sits there, as if it’s waiting for something to happen. Andy told me that it’s the only holdout in the entire fleet. Is it really hard to believe that one probe out of twelve million might be broken?”

“Perhaps not,” he said. “You may be right.”

“Wait a minute! You have the gift of discernment, right? What does it tell you?”

“It doesn’t tell me anything, I’m afraid. You see, what the gift means is that I cannot be lied to. If someone presents me with a falsehood then I will immediately know the truth of the matter. However, in this case no one has lied to us. I have been presented with no false information. That is why I do not know what is going on or who is behind this attack. If we had found someone and they had lied to us then I would know the truth. But I simply have no information to act upon.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Amanda said.

The girl looked off into the distance and stared at the millions of bots that were hovering in mid-air. She focused on them intensely for a moment, and then nodded. “They’re ready,” she said at last.

Reverend Knight noticed that Amanda was just standing there, staring at the probes. “Is there anything else that needs to be done?”

“No,” she replied. “It’s just – well, I don’t know what will happen when we do this.”

“We’ll never know until we try,” the preacher said quietly. “You’ve done all you can, Amanda. I think it’s time. This isn’t all up to you, you know. The Lord brought you to this point in history for a reason. I don’t think any of this is an accident.”

She nodded and then looked intensely at the bots. For a brief moment each one glowed with a radiant blue energy. Then, all at once, the entire swarm vanished.

There was silence for a few minutes. The sun had begun to climb up over the horizon, signaling the arrival of early morning. Overhead the sky was still black, lit by only a handful of dim stars. Amanda had used a large portion of the planet’s crust to create the bots and there was now a sizable crater in the ground.

“Is it over?” Reverend Knight asked.

Amanda shook her head. “Not yet. The bots need some time to board the ship, get through the airlock, and then send the command. That will take just a little bit longer.”

The preacher nodded. They both waited, standing on a tall cliff that overlooked utter desolation. Reverend Knight gazed off into the distance and watched the sun rise. Amanda stared at something only she could see, watching.

“Yes!” she exclaimed suddenly. “Oh yes! Did you see that? Did you see it? Sorry – no, of course you didn’t see it. But it worked! It worked! The probes are dead – every last one of them! The invasion is over. We’ve won!”

Reverend Knight expected to feel a surge of joy, but it didn’t happen. Instead he felt his insides tighten with dread. It was as if a dark shadow had suddenly passed over him. Something was wrong.

“Are you – are you sure?” he said at last. “Are you quite sure that they are all gone?”

“Oh definitely!” Amanda replied enthusiastically. “Andy has confirmed it. Every single probe is destroyed, their drives burnt out. The battle is over!”

“No,” Reverend Knight said uncertainly. “No, it’s not over. Something’s wrong. I think we’ve made a mistake, Amanda. We’re in terrible danger.”

Amanda looked at him, confused. “Are you sure? I mean, how is that even possible? There’s nothing left out there that can hurt us! Why, even that broken probe is dead.”

“That’s it!” the preacher said suddenly. “That’s why we’re in danger! That probe wasn’t broken; it was keeping something from happening. Now that it’s gone we’re in terrible danger. We have to leave this world immediately!”

Amanda looked up at the sky for a few minutes. She frowned. A look of vague concern appeared on her face. “Oh, I see what you mean. That star has become unstable. In fact, it looks like it’s about to detonate. I guess the probe messed with its chemistry somehow.”

“Can we get out of here?”

“I think we’ll have to,” she said. “I wish I could fix the star but I just don’t know how. That’s probably something only the probes could do anyway. Well, that’s fine. Our work on here is done, so let’s go home!”

But nothing happened. The two people remained on the planet.

“Is something wrong?” the preacher finally asked.

“I can’t move,” Amanda replied, startled. “Do you hear me? I can’t move! It’s all wrong. It’s – it’s just wrong!

“What is wrong?”

“Space! Space is wrong. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s as if someone took space and broke it, and I can’t find a way through. But – how? Why? Why was this done?”

“As a precaution,” the preacher said suddenly. “The supposedly ‘broken’ probe saw you disable its friend and it became concerned that something was going wrong. It was not allowed to attack without provocation so it instead set itself up as a dead man’s switch. As long as it was still operational nothing would happen, but if you launched an attack against it the star would explode and wipe out the planet, which it believed contained the source of the problem. It took the further precaution of modifying spacetime in order to prevent the infection from leaving and spreading to other probes.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Amanda said, horrified. “Do you mean–”

“The probe learned how to modify spacetime by watching the Artilect erect defenses,” the preacher continued. “It noticed that the Artilect was attempting to alter spacetime in ways that did no permanent damage. Therefore, in order to form a more effective trap the probe did something that it hoped could not be undone.”

“But – if Andy can’t fix this, then – you don’t understand! I’m not nearly as powerful as he is. If he can’t do it then I can’t either! And that means–”

“It’s ok,” the preacher said. “Just–”

“It’s not ok!” Amanda shouted, panicking. “Don’t you see? That star has already exploded! The shockwave is racing here at the speed of light, and when it hits us it will obliterate the planet entirely. And we can’t get off the planet! We’re trapped here!

Reverend Knight looked at the horizon. The sun was still there, giving off the same faint light it always had. “But the star–”

Amanda interrupted him. “It takes a while for the sunlight to get here. Right now it looks like it’s fine, but it’s not. We won’t be able to see the change with our own eyes until a second before the shockwave kills us.”

The preacher started at the sun. He knew that it no longer existed and that death was racing toward him at the speed of light, but it was almost hard to believe. The world looked so peaceful. It did not realize that the end was coming, but its lack of knowledge would change nothing. The shockwave would hit it all the same and it would leave nothing untouched.

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