8 Jun 2011

The War of the Artilect: Chapter 25

Posted by joncooper

It was nearly noon before Elder Lane awoke. When he finally became conscious again he saw that sunlight was pouring through the large glass windows of the Diano Tower, filling the communications room with a brilliant white light. The ancient man struggled to wake up. He rubbed his eyes and then tried to focus on the computer console in front of him. That is when he finally saw the warning message.

Terror shot through his whole being as he read the dire message. It multiplied tenfold when he realized that not one, but all of the probes had been destroyed. His fleet – along with his hope of destroying the Artilect – had been utterly vanquished.

As he started at the screen, words failed him. He had never been so frightened in all his life. They know! They surely know that I did it. They must have destroyed the probe and traced the upgrade back here! Maybe they don’t know it was me but they’ll know when they get here. I bet they’re already on their way right now! But what am I going to do? What can I possibly do? I’m going to die – we’re all going to die!

The feeling of terror that was rushing through him was quickly replaced with blind panic. Elder Lane raced out of the room, down the hallway, and up to the elevator. He frantically mashed the down button over and over again. “I don’t have time for this!” he screamed, as the door opened. He then ran inside and pressed the button to return to the lobby.

He was so frantic that he actually hopped up and down, in a futile effort to make the high-speed elevator go faster. It only took a few moments for the elevator to reach the ground floor, but to him it felt like an eternity. Every moment he expected the skies to be filled with starships and the Artilect to pour out his wrath upon Xanthe. It’s only a matter of time – maybe minutes, maybe seconds!

Elder Lane ran toward the vault as fast as his legs could carry him. He soon became winded, but his terror was so great that he pressed on anyway. All he could think about was death.

When he finally reached the vault he ran over to Adrian Garza’s pod and slammed his hand against the activation button. After a few minutes the pod opened and Adrian climbed out of it. Before Adrian could even say a word Elder Lane grabbed him.

“We don’t have time for that!” he shouted. “You’ve got to contact the Artilect immediately and tell them to transport me to his home world. Right now!”

“But why?” Adrian asked, surprised. “I don’t understand.”

Elder Lane shook Adrian. “Look, you fool! I – I told the Nehemiah probes to attack the Artilect. I was hoping they would destroy him so that we wouldn’t have to live under the tyranny of Amanda. It was our only chance at survival! But it didn’t work, Adrian. It didn’t work! The Artilect defeated them. He’ll be here any minute!”

“The Artilect is coming here?

“He must be! I’m sure he knows that the probes were upgraded and he’ll come here to find out who did it. When he does he’ll see that we did it and he’ll kill us all. That’s why we’ve got to act right now!”

Adrian hesitated. “What do you want me to do?”

“Do I have to keep repeating myself?” Lane screamed. “Tell him to transport me directly to his home world! Tell him that I just found out vital information about the bot swarms that he needs to hear. Tell him that the bots are after me and that I’ve got to get to him for protection. I don’t care what you tell him! Just get me there.”

“But what do you hope to accomplish?”

“I want to kill him,” Lane said feverishly. “I want to kill all of them! I’ve got to; it’s the only way we’ll survive. If they win this war then they’ll enslave all of us. Do you understand? Our survival depends on this! If I can reach the Artilect then I can destroy him. It’s our only hope!”

Lane saw Adrian hesitate. “Don’t go all wobbly on me!” Lane snapped. “You know exactly what you’ve done to the synthetics that live in your virtual world. Don’t think for a moment that these people aren’t going to do the same thing to us. The strong always oppress the weak! You know that as well as I do.”

“But why do you want me to talk to him?” Adrian asked.

“Because they trust you! They know who you are and they’ll believe anything you tell him. I can’t risk them getting suspicious and asking questions! If you tell them to beam me over there then they’ll do it.”

“All right,” Adrian said at last. “All right. Follow me.”

Adrian led him out of the vault and to the building that housed the communications equipment that the Sentinel had left behind. On the way there he struggled with what he was about to do. He felt terrible about betraying what seemed like nice people, but he could not dismiss what Lane had told him. He knew exactly the depths of depravity that he was capable of, and the thought of being put under someone else’s authority frightened him. He had seen the power of these strangers and knew that, to them, he must seem little more than another synthetic. They might mean well now, but that will change in time. They’ll eventually succumb to the temptation of power. The only way to ensure our freedom is to act now. It is distasteful but it must be done.

The two elderly men entered the building and Adrian led him to the room that contained the communication equipment. As Elder Lane watched, Adrian activated it and contacted the Artilect. A connection was quickly established. Adrian could not see the Artilect, however, as the equipment only transmitted voice information.

“How may I be of assistance?” the Artilect asked. “Is something wrong?”

“It is urgent that you transfer Elder Lane directly to your home world!” Adrian said. “He has obtained vital information about the swarms that you must hear immediately.”

“He has?” the Artilect asked, surprised. “How is that possible?”

“Please, there isn’t much time. He can explain everything once he gets there. His life is in great danger! Can you assemble everyone for an immediate meeting?”

“I can. However, I am surprised. Is there–”

“There isn’t time!” Adrian insisted, interrupting. “Just transport him over – I need to stay here for now. He will explain everything once he arrives. This location is not secure.”

“Very well,” the Artilect said. Elder Lane then vanished.

As soon as he disappeared Adrian shut down the communications equipment. He thought about running, but instead he just sank down into a chair and stared at the deactivated screen. I hope I did the right thing, he thought to himself.

* * * * *

Elder Lane appeared in a small drab room. The walls and ceiling were a dull white color, and the floor was covered in some sort of gray tile. In the middle of the room was a conference table that was surrounded by twelve chairs.

When the Artilect had transported Elder Lane from Xanthe and brought him to its home world, it also brought the rest of the group as well. The only beings it did not bring was Amy, who was still extremely upset and refused to come, and the Sentinel, who had gone to comfort her.

“Are we all here?” Elder Lane asked.

“I think so,” Richard said. “Is there something wrong? I wasn’t expecting–”

“But where’s Amanda?” Elder Lane asked.

“She – died,” Richard said, hesitating. “You see–”

“Oh, ok,” Elder Lane said. “Well, you can explain it later. Here, catch.” He removed a small metal sphere from his pocket and tossed it to him. “I knew that carrying that around with me would pay off eventually!”

While the sphere was still in the air it began dividing, and before a second had passed it had turned into a swarm. The humans in the room did not even have time to react before the swarms cut them down with powerful beams of energy. Before their bodies even hit the floor the swarms had consumed them and turned their remains into more bots.

Elder Lane leaned against the wall and laughed as the swarms lashed out against the Artilect and ate through its walls, consuming vital equipment. He knew that the swarms would not hurt him. A sense of elation flooded through him as he realized the plan was working.

“That’s right!” he shouted. “It was me all along! I’m the one that built the swarms, and all of you were too stupid to figure it out!”

The Artilect was caught completely off-guard. When the Nehemiah probes attacked it had deployed its defenses along the edges of its territory, in an attempt to slow their advance. The Artilect was now dissolving the probes to make sure that they could never attack again. It was not expecting an assault against its core processor and had readied no defenses in its inner sanctum. As a result the swarms destroyed vital portions of its interior before it knew what was happening.

The Artilect desperately tried to find a solution but it was already losing its grasp on sanity. When the bots were in space it was able to deploy starships against them, but those ships could not operate within a planet’s interior. Besides, the ships worked by altering spacetime in ways that would be fatal to the Artilect. In fact, all of its defenses against the swarms involved the utter destruction of the surrounding territory.

It quickly realized that it had to act now, while it was still capable of conscious thought. Summoning all of the energy it still possessed, the Artilect reached out and altered spacetime within his star system, ensuring that the swarms could not escape the area. It then touched its star and destabilized it, turning it into a weapon. In the few seconds that it had before the star exploded the Artilect reached out to Tau Ceti and used an electromagnetic pulse to destroy every last piece of electronic equipment on the planet. If I am to die today, then the swarms will at least die with me, it thought. If there were any bots left on Tau Ceti they are now dead. My star will destroy all the ones that are here.

Elder Lane never knew what killed him. One moment he was watching the swarms eat away at the Artilect’s mind, and the next moment the shockwave hit the planet and vaporized him. In that instant of time the room disappeared and he found himself in a place of utter darkness. Screams filled the air – the horrible, agonizing screams of those who are in torment and have no hope. It took him a moment to realize that he was screaming as well. Something was burning and he was in horrible pain.

“Help!” he screamed. “Somebody, please, help me!”

But there was no help.

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