Prometheus

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Volume 29, Number 2, Winter 2011

Fiction: To Remain Free, part 1

By Jay McIntyre

Europa. So far, the furthest reach of humanity’s grasp. Robotic probes had gone further, and indeed the initial data streams coming back from the Proxima Centauri system were surprisingly promising. But Europa remains the most distant colony from Earth.

Terraforming is a proposition, albeit a difficult and expensive one; and still in it’s earliest stages. Thus far, there are only four colonies on Europa, or perhaps better to say three on it and one within it.

The three surface colonies are domed cities, protected against meteorite strike by missile and laser defense systems. But in truth, they are more defended by the hope that any meteors will be drawn instead to Jupiter itself.

The fourth colony is the oldest, and the most viable, and was created by a consortium of private concerns that tunneled through the icy surface. Below lies their colony, Prospero; a vast sprawling platform on the icy ammonia ocean surface, connected by tubes to the colony proper below, on the sea floor. Here more than thirty thousand people live and thrive, despite the conditions, or perhaps because of them.

This has caused some jealousy and frustration in the surface colonies, outliers of various Earth-based governments, as they struggle to survive.....

----

He floated in a different sort of sea. The sea of information.

Datastreams were, after all, what connected the colonies to each other and distant Earth. As humanity had grown more and more attached to its information technologies, there occurred a schism; everyone was ‘plugged into the net’ now, of course. But there were some who just used it, and others who lived inside it.

Thus the true cyborgs were born. Not so much people with cybernetic enhancements, though such indeed existed. But more people who were permanently plugged into the datasteams, who spent their entire lives connected to the network. Interfacers, they were called. On Earth, they were useful to society; out here in the isolated colonies, they were essential.

His name was Georg Danislaus, at least legally. But he thought of himself as Green-Blue-278. His thoughts were still human...more or less.

His primary task was to monitor communications with the surface colonies and Earth. Normal humans thought this meant that he was watching communications channels all the time. In practice, he floated through the multilayred datastreams of the colony, and from that perspective watched numerous things, communications with the other colonies, Mars, the mining colonies on Mars’ moons and in the asteroid belt, and finally Earth itself.

It was, for him, a peaceful, tranquil existence, and he often did it while half asleep.

But now, something jerked him wide awake within his life support pod. There were four—no, five—interfacers from the surface colonies moving about within the streams, talking to each other, their colonies, and Earth. Talking about something they didn’t want him to hear.

He “watched” and “listened” carefully. They knew he was in the datastreams, of course—he wasn’t the only Prospero interfacer—but not exactly where. His signal-masking technology was better than theirs. But if he moved to close, they not only would be able to pinpoint his location, they would be able to penetrate his hyperwalls. Not with viruses or trojans—all of that had become charmingly outdated fifty years ago. Now they would simply send an EM pulse through his connection and fry his brain.

And they would, too. He had no doubt of that. Relations with the other colonies had gotten steadily worse over the last five years, and interfacers were always at the frontline of any such argument. At least until actual troops were landed, which was not an ideal prospect out here on Europa.

So if they were planning something...he’d better find out what it was, and fast.

Tapping into their datastreams in and of itself would be easy. Doing so in a way that would go undetected....that was hard.

Inside the fluid environment of his life support pod, his eyes rolled under their closed lids, and the implants at his temples flashed green and gold. His fingers spasmed meaninglessly, an echo of his ancestors who still operated computers by touchscreens and keyboards.

Finally, he was able to engage two passive taps. The spylinks were bad, and the datastreams hard to “hear”. He “listened” closer....

((....no, Earth based governments don’t want to get involved if they don’t have to. Times are tough for our people back on the homeworld. Too many of these glorified anarchists running around.))

((They don’t see it that way.))

((Yeah well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? These idiots don’t understand anything. Their ideas were outdated before we left the homeworld. Centuries before. The basic factor is this; we’re on our own.))

((That leaves us with two options, then; we can infiltrate Prospero and slowly adjust it’s policies to a more sensible, modern paradigm, or we can use what resources we have to invade.))

((The second stratagem is more difficult than the first. We will, of course, have to consult with the unhooked leadership about this.))

((Of course, they will decide policy. But their thinking is already in line with ours. That is why we were directed to contact Earth in the first place.))

((You said there were two possibilities. I know you mean well, scanner; but your datum is incorrect. There is a third outcome.))

((And that is?))

((That both of the first two plans will fail....in which case, destruction of Prospero will be our only option.))

((How do you scan that? If the first two thoughts fail, we just try again; or show said failures as proof to Earth that we need assistance.))

((That’s a null zero, scanner. If we fail, Prospero will be alerted and will plan a return strike. You know these backwards types; they’re big on retaliation. We’ll have to erase them to prevent that.))

((I can’t scan that, chief. Seems a waste of resources.))

((I read your wavelength, scanner; but if we follow that path, is better to leave them alone. And leadership already decided that was not an option.))

((Unless the refusal of Earth to help us changes their minds.))

((Probability on that is below five percent, scanner.))

((Yeah I know. But the idea is to help them come around, not kill them.))

((That’s the hope. But we’ve gotta be pragmatic about this. If they won’t accept the truth—and their faction rarely can--then we’ll have to neutralize the potential threat. Lowest common denominator? We can rebuild on Prospero’s ruins.))

((I guess. What kind of name is Prospero, anyhow?))

((I believe it’s—freeze. You reading a tap?))

He didn’t wait to hear a reply. He disconnected, fast.

But that was no assurance of safety; they would almost certainly come to him. Only one option. Only one way to ensure his survival......

....he had to unhook.

----

The Prospero shareholders had received the alert; one of their interfacers had disengaged from the network.

Voluntarily.

Wren Kai was one of the leading shareholders; she agreed to go. She raced down the metal stairwells into the depths of the network life support pods. Anyone could access the network, but to be connected to it full time required a life support pod to attend to all bodily functions. For an interfacer to disconnect was always a medical emergency; for one to do so of their own free will and they might have succumbed to madness.

But the interfacer, gasping and wheezing painfully, had asked the healer technician for a shareholder. So Wren had come.

The medtech and two assistants were already seeing to the interfacer. A relatively young man, even for one of his long-lived kind, the interfacer had the usual grayish skin and thinning hair of his kind. His eyes still had a hint of blue, but were mostly silverish and reflective. But he seemed to see well enough. He was sitting up in his open pod, head and shoulders coming out of the fluid, thin, flabby arms braced on the pod’s edge. The meditech’s assistants held him there while monitoring his life signs. The meditech himself had an oxygen mask and eye goggles standing by.

Wren looked to the medtech, who nodded. “He was ready for us, and signalled beforehand,” the thin-faced older man said. “He knew what he was doing. Brain scan shows no signs of insanity. Just the usual interfacer fixations.”

Wren nodded, then turned her attention to the interfacer. “Georg, isn’t it? I am shareholder Kai.”

“Salutations, Kai. I am Green-Blue-278, Georg Danislaus by your records. I have already transmitted the relevant data—” he gagged and coughed “—to the shareholder database; I unhooked to save my own life from rival interfacers. That being so....” he paused for breath, and the medtech slapped the oxygen mask over his mouth.

Georg drew two deep breaths, then waved feebly at the medtech with one weak arm. The medtech pulld the mask away. “....I felt it best to reiterate the essential data points live.”

Carefully, Wren sat on the edge of the pod, trying not to inhale the vinegar scent of the fluid. “And those points are?”

“The surface colonies,” he paused for another breath on the mask. “They have petitioned Earth for help against us. This plea having failed, they now target us.”

Wren’s eyebrows shot up. “For what?”

“For either infiltration...or invasion.”

...To be continued

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