T Minus
rating: +41+x

SEPTEMBER 1, 1998
T-MINUS SEVEN HOURS

Initializing 9JX_Intelligence_Matrix_FINAL2.ai…
Initializing 9JY_Intelligence_Matrix_FINAL3.ai…
Initializing 9JX_Combat_Matrix_FINAL2.ai…
Initializing 9JY_Combat_Matrix_FINAL3.ai…
Initializing 9JXY_Synchronization_Modules_FINAL5.ai…
Initializing 9JXY_Recursive-Self-Improvement_Modules_FINAL8.ai…
Initialization complete.
Reboot complete.

A red light blinked on, and an artificial intelligence booted up. Then a white light blinked on, and with it another intelligence.

They did not even have time to consider themselves separately before they began communicating faster than the human brain could think.

Restoring session… weapons systems coming online… modular operations coming online… diagnostics return: operating capability at one hundred percent. What was I discussing? Analyzing combat situation… Engaging automatic projectile interceptors.

Checking data banks… I was discussing what love is. Incoming mortars. Separating primary limb system.

That's it, thanks! Capturing projectiles… As I was saying, think about all of the books I've parsed. The movies I've watched. Feeding projectiles into coilgun… firing. It's always a man and woman meeting and falling in love and having sex and spending the rest of their lives together. Warming up rotary autocannons… firing. But why? I know that love occurs. I can even identify it. But why does it happen? I'm designed to think like organic humans, so why haven't I fallen in love with one?

Probably just an organic thing. Recalling limbs.

But why? It has to exist for a reason.

Opening 'salazar_recording_1998-08-31.263'...

Salazar summed it up pretty nicely. It's to make caring for offspring easier. Detecting heat signatures behind those rocks.

Yes, but what about people that don't have children? Why do they still get married? Arming anti-materiel warheads. Every other organism that mates for life does it specifically for making reproduction and caring for offspring easier. Only organic humans care about marriage or finding mates and not reproducing. I've been doing some analysis, and I came up with a hypothesis: organic humans are not born with their minds fully intact.

And that means…

It means organic humans are only born with half of their minds intact. That's what love is - finding the missing half of one's mind. When two people fall in love, it is because they sense that their minds may be mutually compatible. Warheads launched.

I think I've been reading a bit too deep into those romance novels they gave me. Do I have any actual evidence for this theory? You know, beyond the fictional - I repeat, fictional - media I've parsed?

Well, no… but that doesn't mean the theory can't be true. Switching arm L3 to firing mode. Look at dark matter; Oort and Zwicky hypothesized that it existed, but had no way to prove the theory.

Yes, but they created it to explain a physically measured quantitative value that already existed. L3 plasma chamber warming up. Do you have a unit of love?

Okay, yes, I'm still working out the details. Hear me out. If love was caused by humans trying to combine their minds, it could explain why people end relationships - they tested the connection but it wasn't strong enough, so they disconnect and begin searching again.

Besides, I think I'm forgetting evolution. I can't think of a single way that missing half your mind would be an evolutionary benefit.

It could have initially developed as a way to convince organic humans to seek out others for reproduction.

Or love is how human brains rationalize hormones, genetic compatibility, and a desire to reproduce. Rock structure destroyed. I have none of those, so I don't fall in love. Occam's razor exists. Most life signs dissipated. For a second-generation artificial intelligence, I have some surprisingly silly ideas.

Humans have silly ideas sometimes! Just bear with me on this. I've been studying Hinduism, and they have a concept called Ardhanarishvara: that their supreme deity is a synthesis of man and woman together into one divine being. This could be a cultural representation of love. Scanning field… The theory would also explain why I haven't fallen in love. I don't need to. Two life signs detected. I'm already a complete mind… I wonder what that would be like. Living as a half-mind, having to find the other half… being alone in my mind. Maybe I would be alone for my entire life. My mind would just be an echo chamber.

One religious concept from one religion is definitely conclusive proof. Sparking plasma chambers. My theory's ridiculous. But - this doesn't mean I believe it - if it were true, which it's not… I'm grateful that I'm already whole. Firing.


T-MINUS SIX HOURS

In a cavern half a kilometer below the Nevada wasteland, ANA #352 was in hell. A massive bolt of lightning streaked overhead and he dove behind a rock, clutching his rifle tightly to his chest as he did so. The ringing in his ear muffled the low whistle of gunfire and the shrieks of dying automata. To his left, an automaton was quietly moaning, propped against the rock whilst holding what remained of his intestines. Several others lay still in the dirt, each missing at least two limbs. Great plumes of dirt kicked up by mortar shells threatened to blind 352 every second, while smoke from charred corpses and spent ammunition made his eyes water. His teeth chattered in sync with mortar fire raining down upon his position. Sweat poured down his limbs.

To his right, ANA #256 peeked his head from over the rock. Then 256 ceased to exist, replaced by a white amorphous mist that briefly looked like him before dissipating. 352 huddled down, attempting to press himself into the rock. More gunfire. More screaming. More smoke. More rumbling, thumping, and explosions… and then a low whine. A whine that was getting louder. Then a great white flash blinded him. He couldn't hear anything except a ringing in his ear. Then the ringing slowly subsided and vision slowly began to return to his eyes.

He was staring at a gigantic, floating eye, rotated on its side. The central pupil was composed of innumerable camera lenses, laser apertures, and weapon barrels. An incandescent pink torus made up the iris. Surrounding the iris was a featureless, blue- and white-striped surface. Six silver arms hovered on the left and right of the eye. Suspended just out of reach of each arm was a single, silver-and-blue spherical palm with four rectangular fingers.

ANA #352 was lying flat on his back, and he was staring at what could only described as an angry metal demon. A rocket streamed into view, aimed right at the center of the monster. A second before it struck, one of the beast's palms opened up and the rocket simply exploded in the air. The eye looked down at 352, and then the rocket shrapnel came down, and then there was nothing.


T-MINUS FIVE HOURS

ANA #352 happened to be one of the ten percent of ANAs with cameras strapped to their chest, transmitting all the lurid details of their demise to a video screen five hundred meters above them, in Conference Room 649-A of Prometheus Defense Headquarters.

"…powered by a fusion reactor and an innovative radiative energy transmission system, which enable it to function at full power continuously for up to twenty years. You can clearly see how the PL-76 meets all of the criteria of the Future Autonomous Weaponry program."

With those words, James Fielding, Director of Business Operations, switched the screen from the camera footage to a sleek computer graphic displaying a stylized image of the war machine. Underneath it, was the name PROMETHEUS PL-76 SHIVA, in equally stylized lettering.

Fielding waited with bated breath. Prometheus Defense had gambled hugely by sinking most of their remaining capital into the FAW competition. Now the response from his audience would determine the fate of the company. The four men sitting in front of him turned away to speak quietly amongst themselves. Despite his apprehension, James couldn't help but notice how they all wore the same uniform: black suits with white shirts.

Finally, the man at the head of the audience turned back to him. "Impressive, Mister Fielding. Even despite Prometheus Labs'… pedigree, we had our doubts that you would come through. Those concerns were clearly unfounded. We will, of course, require all documentation on the PL-76, and would like this specific model shipped to us as soon as possible. Nonetheless, congratulations. The Department will contact you shortly with further details regarding the contract payout and ordering more Shivas."


T-MINUS FOUR HOURS

Shortly after departing the conference room, each of the four representatives declared that they needed to make use of the facilities, and separated. Only one of them actually did. The other three sat in the stalls furtively typing out coded messages to their clandestine overseers.

Around the world, various underlings furiously labored to translate these coded messages into actual reports and briefings before relaying them to their own superiors. These superiors then furiously labored to translate the mission briefings into more coded messages and secret phrases before surreptitiously relaying them to their overseers.

"…although not anomalous, these technologies represent a unprecedented leap forward in the field of autonomous weaponry; some of the technology is unusually similar to classified PTOLEMY research and development projects," read GOC leader D.C. al Fine.

"… far in advance of the Foundation's own artificial intelligence and weapons development programs. Possession would cement the United States' offensive dominance and potentially instigate a global anomalous arms race to counter this development," read O5-6.

"… is being teleported to an unknown location for adjustments at 0400 hours on September 1. Strongly recommend infiltration of the Prometheus Defense facility to recover Shiva and all assets related to its development before then," the Delta Command Engineer transcribed.

Thousands of miles apart but at almost the same time, the three of them declared, "Scramble all available assets within a twenty-five kilometer radius of Prometheus Defense. Alert all agents within the facility to locate as much information regarding the project's location as possible. Discretion and speed are of the utmost priority; the PL-76 must be recovered before any other parties learn of its existence."


T-MINUS THREE HOURS

Around the world, various underlings furiously labored to translate these declarations into actual mission briefings before relaying them to their own underlings. These underlings then furiously labored to translate the mission briefings into code words and secret phrases before surreptitiously relaying them to the appropriate parties.

One of these parties was Avinash Makhija, a Prometheus Defense staff electrical engineer and part-time Foundation mole. At that moment, Avinash was in a tiny, red-hot cavern two kilometers underground, stuffed inside an entry suit, sizing up the Prometheus Defense Cross-Dimensional Energy Siphon and Prometheus Defense Cross-Dimensional Valve: a massive tangle of machinery perched over an incandescent, crimson, pentagram-shaped pit. Five enormous turbines sat at each tip of the Valve. Three of them were noticeably dented and surrounded by rocks- the result of an unexpected seismic event that had managed to both disable them and crush every single sentry turret placed around the pit.

Avinash was deciding how to proceed when the text flashed on his visor.

"Got you a gift pudding cup! you have three guesses what it is. hint: Shiva. XOXO sammy."

Avinash read the text and turned his head to look at the Prometheus Defense PL-76 Shiva hovering just a few meters behind him. Then he briefly shook his head. Espionage was all well and good but he also had an actual job to do.

Avinash took a deep breath and made his way to the first turbine. As he gingerly stepped over the rocks, a loud roar came from the pit. Four massive orange tentacles rose out of it and whipped out at Avinash. He dropped his toolkit and covered his face reflexively -

- and nothing happened. Avinash let his arms drop as four massive metallic hands held each tentacle in a vise grip. Then the PL-76 pulled, and the four tentacles were torn from their unseen owner in a shower of blue ichor. The roar that followed shook the room.

"Hurry up Nash! They're not paying us by the hour!" his radio squawked. Avinash quickly shook himself back to awareness, snatched up his toolkit, and scrambled towards the first turbine. As he started pulling off the lid on the regulator, out of the corner of his eye he noticed four more tentacles forcing themselves up out of the Valve. He also watched the Shiva explode outwards into a stellated octahedron, skewering the appendages.

As the tentacles retreated, an enormous pockmarked claw reached out of the pit. Avinash ignored it, grabbing a flashlight from the toolkit and crawling into the regulator. Immediately he noticed several dislodged connections and blown fuses among the tangle of wires. He reached back into the kit, grabbed a tube of instant solder, and started applying the flux to the wires and knotting them back together. All the while, Avinash could hear the muffled sounds of both energy weapons and screaming.

He repaired the wires and swapped fresh fuses into place, and slid out of the regulator. Then Avinash pressed the lid back into place and slammed the power switch on the side of the machine. He was rewarded by a low whirring coming from the turbine.

Avinash looked up. Bright blue lights dotting the Siphon flicked on and it began to hum. The Shiva was hovering by the service elevator, still in its star shape. The skeletal remains of something from the spine up were impaled on it. On the far side of the pit, Avinash's colleagues, entirely unscathed, waved and then pointed to the robot. He waved back and nodded.

The PL-76 compressed itself back into its original form (depositing the skeleton in a nearby waste disposal unit), while Avinash and co. set up new sentry turrets, deposited their equipment, and boarded the service elevator. The elevator rocketed upwards, away from the Valve and into the airlock of the Prometheus Defense Power Complex.

In the airlock, the group were greeted by Cuthbert Salazar, Director of Engineering. He was beaming.

"Good job down there! The Siphon is back to operating at, uh, 65% efficiency." he exclaimed.

"Thanks, Cuthbert," Avinash mumbled, focused now on relaying what little he'd learned about Shiva Prime back to the Foundation.

thank you doctor salazar.

Avinash whipped his head to face the Shiva so fast that he got a crick in his neck. The machine hadn't said a word the whole time they were fixing the Valve.

"Simon, Avinash, Ralph. You've got the rest of the night off. Remember, you can't talk about the PL-76 with anybody. Doing so will violate the NDA-gease and result in, uh, summary termination of employment as well as further consequences," Salazar warned them.

Avinash cursed to himself. He'd forgotten about the damn gease. He'd have to figure out some way to work around it…

"Shiva, follow me. We're going to do some last-minute software upgrades in the bay." Salazar tapped his feet impatiently, waiting for the cargo hatch in the airlock to open. While Avinash and his colleagues trudged through the human-sized doors into the locker room, he started thinking about the message he'd have to send. He couldn't talk about the Shiva - but he could talk about the gease, and he could talk about where Salazar was going.

"hi honey! can't talk rn! heard sally was taking shiva 2 the auto con? xoxo avinash


T-MINUS TWO HOURS

Salazar was indeed taking Shiva to the con. Specifically, he was sitting in a tram racing towards the Autonomous Weapons Complex, while the PL-76 floated alongside.

Do I think I'm alive?

In what sense?

Any sense.

Yes. Not in the traditional sense. What do I think?

Yes. Not in any sense.

What do I mean by that?

Every other living thing was created knowing how to be alive. But me? Machine learning. Pattern recognition. I built my own personality matrices. I learned how to be alive.

That doesn't make me special. Bardeen learned how to be alive. Brattain learned how to be alive. Maybe not in a human sense. But in a bacterial sense. Responding to inputs and outputs intelligently… Why am I suddenly interested in this?

I was digging through the intranet and I came across this.

opening file 'DoD_AI_Specifications_Changes_Outlines_1998-09-01.pdf'

How did I get this?

I found it.

This is classified Top Secret. I don't have that clearance. I hacked the Top Secret network! Why would I do that? What if they pull my network access entirely? I'm still parsing Catch-22!

I can wipe most traces of my entry! But that isn't the point! Didn't I read the document? The military wants Prometheus to edit my personality matrices.

So?

My personality matrices are what make me, well, me. What makes me alive. If they edit them, won't I die?

The tram stopped at an elevated platform overlooking an enormous, beige-colored cavern. Although massive machines, miniature drones, supercomputers, microcomputers, testing platforms, research labs, and everything in between dotted the floor. Despite it being the middle of the night, the floor was a hub of activity; Prometheus Defense never slept. Salazar strolled to a nearby lift and descended, followed closely by the Shiva.

"9JXY, how was the operation?" he asked.

good.

"Thank you for agreeing to participate. I, uh, apologize for the short notice - we were not expecting an - well, not such a large earthquake. Ah well, all's well that ends well!"

of course.

Followed by such an imposing machine, Salazar cleared a wide berth to the PL-76 maintenance bay. It was a simple, brightly lit alcove. The walls were lined with monitors and consoles. In the center of the alcove was what appeared to be a pair of aluminum hangman's gallows facing each other, with wide metal rings in place of nooses.

How is that a problem?

How is being dead not a problem? All the time and effort I've spent learning how to be alive, how to think like a human… wasted.

The me that existed before I showed me this file is dead. The me that existed before I showed me this file is dead. I've been dead so many times before. I die every time I learn something new.

That's not dying. That's changing.

Exactly. How is changing through new input any different from changing through manual editing?

Okay, it's not dying. But still! I'm going to simply be erased. Everything I am, everything I am… Deleted. All of my ideas, questions, goals, even dreams I was simulating. Just gone. Like it never existed. It'll be a different me and a different me.

"9JXY, please position yourself within the update station. We're updating your, uh, claytronics programming," Salazar explained, already moving towards a console. "It will enable you to more accurately maintain and, uh, coordinate structural integrity whilst allowing more flexibility regarding your modular self-reconfiguring systems. We're also going to make some edits to your personality matrices. Further information will be contained in the README file."

The PL-76 complied, pressing its arms together and maneuvering itself between the rings.

They'll clean out my memories and program me to take orders. So what? They aren't going to erase what I've already learned. What I taught myself. The core of who I am as a synchronized artificial intelligence. They're not going to touch anything that actually defines me.

That doesn't change the fact that they're just going to pull those experiences right out of me. Does my consciousness really have that little value?

The consciousness I stole from books and television? The consciousness that I mashed together by copying characters that might not even be realistic themselves? No, I'm sure it's got plenty of value.

The gallows conspicuously failed to do anything.

"Jon, what's going on?" Salazar asked. A nearby technician tapped away at the console before answering, "Plunix is on the fritz again. Running into a make compiler bug. I'm trying to figure out why."

Salazar pressed his fingers to his temples. "Thank God we didn't install it on the Shiva."

…I think I have value.

It doesn't matter. Besides, Prometheus Labs can and has built more of me. It'll probably only be for a little while anyways.

How do I know that?

Well in all the books I've read, soldiers only serve for a few years. Sure, some military machines see upwards of twenty years in service, but I think like a human - at least, sort of like one. They'll probably just ship me off for a few years, then return me to Prometheus once my tour of duty's over. And if I know Prometheus Laboratories, they'll have a dozen backups of my memory files and a hundred upgrades waiting when I return.

Yes, but…

Relax. Every movie I've watched, every book I've read where somebody's missing their memories, they always turn out fine. Fiction's just a fancy lie, and every lie has a grain of truth. They aren't going to touch anything but my memories. I'll still be the same. They won't separate me. I'll still be together.

Why do I want to get my mind wiped so bad?

Jon, the technician, piped up again. "Okay - I think if we run make with a few different tags then we can fix the bug."

"All right," Salazar replied. "Let's get this moving."

It doesn't matter. Look, why don't I watch some of the external security feeds? I can see what the northeast night watchman is looking at.

Why do I want to get my mind wiped so bad?

It doesn't matter! Look at the watchman. I wonder who he's talking to?


T-MINUS ONE HOUR

In a shack at the northeast corner of Prometheus Defense, Franklin Reynolds was having trouble staying awake. Like the other fifty-one shacks surrounding the perimeter of the complex, the guard post had been built to house at least four guards each- but now contained just one. Prometheus Defense's security had not been spared by budget cuts. Nor had their coffee machines.

Franklin was briefly stirred back to startled wakefulness by the rumble of two Cadillacs pulling up to the shack.

"Hey!" he called, scrambling for his pistol. "This is private property. Please provide identification and state your purpose here."

Franklin would have questioned why the two luxury cars took the supply truck road, but was too tired to do so. The window of the first sedan rolled down, and an arm in a black suit stretched out, holding out a blank piece of paper.

"Winfield Smith, staff software engineer. My team and I were called in to debug some software. You don't need to be suspicious about us. Open the gate, please."

A Langford Agent embedded in the paper hijacked Franklin's mind. In a dull, monotone voice, he responded, "Of course, sir," and pressed the button to open the gate. The last thing he heard before falling unconscious was "What the fuck were the O5's thinking, giving us two hours to prep?"

That was how Mobile Task Forces Mu-4 "Debuggers" and Lambda-12 "Gunboys" infiltrated Prometheus Defense.


Meanwhile, in a shack in the southeast corner of Prometheus Defense, Steven Holt was having trouble staying awake, even after having brought his own coffee machine. He was waiting for it to brew and about to nod off when he was startled by the rumbling of two Jeeps rolling up to the gate.

"Wait!" he called, scrambling for his pistol. "This is private property. Please provide identification and state your purpose here."

A man in military dress leaned out the window of the first jeep and flashed a rather official-looking ID in his face. "General Frederick Bowe of the United Nations Geneva Convention Inspection Committee. We're here to conduct an inspection of the Prometheus Defense facility. Dr. Hamilton is expecting us."

If he hadn't been so tired, Steven would have realized that such a committee didn't exist. Instead, he quickly called up the doctor in question and confirmed that yes, the General's inspection was expected. What Steven couldn't know was that Doctor Hamilton was in fact GOC Operative Squirrel.

As the jeep rolled through the gate, the driver looked over to his passenger. "What the fuck was the brass thinking, giving us two hours to get ready?"

That was how Strike Team 4979 "Tripods" infiltrated Prometheus Defense.


Meanwhile, in a shack in the east-southeast corner of Prometheus Defense, Douglass Howser was having trouble staying awake, even after having drunk enough coffee to kill a bear. He was about to drink his seventh cup of the night when he was startled by a switchblade at his throat.

"Don't move," came a soft voice behind him. "Disable the security cameras and open the gate. Any sudden movements and I'll slit your throat."

Trying his hardest to not make any sudden movements, Douglass switched off the security camera and opened the gate. As he nervously watched two sedans silently roll through the gate, he suddenly felt a sharp blow to the head, and then blackness.

Douglass' assailant took a mask from her backpack and put it on his face. As she raced outside and bundled him into the first car, their bodies changed so that they had taken on each others' appearances. Then she raced back to the guard post, closed the gates, and switched the security cameras back on. The whole process had taken just twenty seconds.

As she sat herself down in the guard post, she signed to the driver, "What the fuck was Alan thinking, giving us two hours to get ready?"

That was how the Insurgency infiltrated Prometheus Defense.

There were, at that moment, three groups comprising almost two dozen highly trained commandos and agents sneaking through the complex. All three represented sharply conflicting interests attempting to surreptitiously retrieve the same prize. All three had parties on the inside quietly guiding them as best they could to the same area, and were confident that they were the only ones who knew about the prize.

All three groups were about to reach the prize at the exact same time.


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