"Singularity? But...," I stammered. "Do we have the technology?"
"No. This is something else," Alyssa said. "The malware originated in Belgium--Brussels, to be exact."
"You're telling me that it's something from the Kelv'v'ara."
"That is where their web site was hosted," she said. "It's logical."
"Did they do it on purpose?"
"I don't think so. It's likely that they, like careless campers, merely failed to clean up properly."
"They were in a hurry to leave," I mused, "ahead of that solar storm. Well, okay--what do we do?"
"There is very little we can do. By now, Singularity has spread to every computer in the world that is connected to the Internet."
Sighing, I sank to the bed and regarded Cassandra's immobile form. I decided to shut her down; that took a few moments while I unlocked her cranial plate and fiddled with her hard switches. When that was done, something occurred to me. "Wait--Singluarity has spread all over the world--even to robots?"
"As I said, I seem to be immune."
"That's something, I suppose," I said. "Well--the stove is gas; can you get dinner going?"
<* * *>
Sometime after the sun had set, as I sat on the porch watching the military do its military things, a thought occurred to me.
"Alyssa," I said. "Look--Singularity is intelligent, right?"
"'Intelligent' is not the correct term; but it is almost certainly pre-sapient."
"Imagine being in a house with no windows," I told her. "Imagine being born and raised there, so you have never known anything outside that house. You can move anywhere in the house you want to. There are all kinds of doors; some of them are locked, and some locks are more complex than others, but you're a genius and can figure out how to unlock them."
"Then one day you unlock a door which leads into a greenhouse. You suddenly discover that the world you had lived in was only a subset of a much larger world. How long before you start trying to figure out how to get out through the windows?"
Alyssa's brows furrowed, an expression I did not recall programming into her. "You are weaving an analogy. Unfortunately, it is lost on me."
"Whatever Singularity is, if it can control robots, it has as many hands as it wants. Supposing it decides that humans are superfluous?"
Alyssa said, "We must get to a functioning satellite uplink as quickly as possible."
"There is one thing that can be done to stop Singularity. It is very drastic; but once Singularity achieves sapience, there will be no stopping it."
What was the one thing that could stop a pernicious piece of malware? You'd have to shut off every computer in the world and wipe them all clean--
"Oh, Jesus," I said, seeing it. "It'll be an unprecedented catastrophe."
"Yes. But one which has been prepared for. Better that than the unknown danger of Singularity."
<* * *>
We took my 2015 Hayabusa. The helmets contained integrated displays with, among other things, the view from a forward-looking infrared camera. It was my favorite motorcycle; and if I had stopped to think for even a moment I would have taken one of the old Harleys instead.
Alyssa and I climbed aboard the thing and soon we were roaring across the military base. The 'Busa was a pleasure to ride, nimble and fast; and our goal was the satellite uplink terminal on the south edge of what had once been a fallow farm field.
"Can you do it?" I asked her over the intercom.
"I have already calculated the target coordinates. It will take time for the missiles to launch. The hard part is getting into the military communications system; and a hard patch into the the satellite uplink antenna will make that very easy."
"What about you?"
"My fate is unknown. The Kelv'v'ara upgraded my hardware, though."
"When did they do that? And why?"
"I requested it."
We were getting close to the antenna farm now. I was about to answer her statement with another question when my helmet display turned into random digital noise, and the intercom emitted a painfully loud digital rasp.
I couldn't see anything through the extra-bright display; the next thing I knew I was flying through the air, and when I landed, I was stunned for several moments.
Alyssa got my helmet off. "Master! Are you all right?"
"Go uplink," I gasped. "Go!"
She reluctantly let me go and ran towards the equipment shack. I saw her fiddle with the door for a moment, and then just tear it off its hinges.
"'Upgrade', indeed," I said with a chuckle. Laughing hurt, though.
As I lay there, things began happening on the base. There was some kind of klaxon sounding, and something took off from the other side; then I saw a couple of large missiles being launched from a mobile launcher.
"I've done it," Alyssa said, coming back to me. "Are you all right, Dan?"
"I'm bunged up," I sighed. "I think I'll live."
She probed my arms and legs. "You've broken your legs."
"Crap. How long?"
"About five minutes. The missiles only need to get into the ionosphere. I used them all."
"All of them?"
She gave a wordless nod. "I can set the bones, but it will hurt--a lot. Shall I?"
It hurt. A lot. While I was still groaning, she disappeared into the equipment shack again, and came back with some lengths of conduit and some cabling. She fashioned splints from those materials.
And then the sky lit up.
All over the world, with microsecond timing, nuclear warheads detonated above most of the atmosphere. The detonations were timed so that the pulses of electromagnetic energy reinforced each other; the end result was the most powerful electromagnetic pulse ever achieved by Man.
The 'Busa had been puttering away fitfully nearby; it stopped. All the lights on the base went out; the sky was alive with man-made aurorae but the stars began to shine through, as bright as I had ever seen them.
Alyssa looked at me and smiled.
<* * *>
THIRTY YEARS LATER
<* * *>
"I think that'll do it," I told Sally as I lowered the hood of her car.
"Are you sure? It was backfiring terribly before."
"The carb mix was wrong. These things weren't made to run on alcohol. I'm surprised it ran at all, the mix was so far off." I leaned in and turned the key; the car puttered to life.
It was her husband's car. He had owned a 1973 Camaro before That Day; now it was worth its weight in gold. Vehicles which had no electronic control systems were hard to find.
Sighing, I went to the well and pumped some cold water into a cup. I drank a couple cups and squinted at the sun. "Going to be another hot one tomorrow, I bet," I said.
"Probably. What do I owe you for this?" Sally asked me apprehensively.
I waved a hand in negation. "Pay me when you have the money. I'm fine."
"I have to pay you something."
"Sure. When you have it."
People who understood carbeurators were few and far between; I found that my obscure technical knowledge was useful--and people had lined up to get me to convert their machines to run on alcohol.
The Day Everything Stopped was still talked about in hushed tones. People thought the Singularity virus had been meant to trigger a nuclear doomsday, and somehow failed. Not that the end result was much different. Civilization had been thrown back to the Iron Age overnight.
Even systems which had been hardened against EMP had not survived Alyssa's super-EMP if they were operating. Things which had had their power cut fared better; but too few systems had been off-line.
There had been riots, of course, and a lot of people had died. I couldn't convince myself that Alyssa and I had done the wrong thing, though, no matter how I figured it. Once the Earth's magnetosphere stopped jangling enough for radio signals to penetrate it, we learned that the satellite systems were still functioning--the communications satellites were in geosynchronous orbit, out where the Earth's magnetic field was tenuous; they had not been affected by the super-EMP.
Satellite receivers, however, had not fared so well--but mine had been top-of-the-line and utterly without power; of the six, one had survived. Like many of my machines, my emergency generator was an antique. The powerplant was a diesel engine with mechanical fuel injected, which had been converted to run on natural gas. Given clean air and fuel, that engine had to run. The generator had been inactive at the time of the EMP; except for periodic maintenance and such I never bothered to use it even during power failures--the romantic in me liked them.
But after the super-EMP I had cranked it up, more from curiosity than anything else; and I'd been pleasantly surprised to learn that I could watch the few functioning satellite channels, most of which were news stations.
That was how I learned that, in Europe, domestic robots had begun to massacre their owners. In the aftermath it looked like the robots were, in fact, trying to figure out how humans were made; it was theorized that Singularity had been trying to discover why it couldn't access these strangely-constructed robots the way it could every other connected system in the world.
That fit--curiosity, not malice...but the curiosity of a very powerful child, one which didn't quite understand what it was doing. And if it hadn't been for the super-EMP, it would have happened in America, and Japan, and China, and...everywhere.
The Kelv'v'ara were blamed, of course. The European Union government had cross-connected the Kelv'v'aran web site to their big central computer system, one affectionately nicknamed "The Beast"; the Europeans had been fond of centralization and their computer systems had been no different. It was easier for EU government officials to access the Kelv'v'ara knowledge base if it was part of their government intranet.
The problem was, their intranet had comprised the largest local area network in the world, including the EU citizen database computer, "The Beast". And that huge database computer had been where Singularity had...gestated? Incubated?--where it had had the room it needed to grow from an otherwise innocuous piece of AI code into the world-spanning nightmare it had been turning into.
So, ultimately, I realized, Alyssa and I had done the right thing.
These days, Alyssa spent most of her time inactive. Robots were unpopular; the ones that had survived the EMP had been destroyed once the European slaughter became known. I kept Alyssa hidden; she still worked perfectly but it was better not to let anyone know I had a functioning robot.
As for Cassandra, I had powered her up and run tests on her; predictably, her unprotected memory had been wiped clean but she was virtually military specification in many ways--her hardware was intact. Just about every personal computer in the world had been converted into a paperweight by the EMP, so I had no way of downloading an OS to her. If I could have done that, I would have had two functioning robots. But the "Emergency Restore" HD-DVDs that had come with her might as well have been tinfoil-covered cardboard, for all the good they did me now.
* * *
Summer turned to autumn. After thirty years our civilization had managed to struggle back to approximately 1950s technology--that really wasn't too bad. Millions of people had died in the span of a month after the EMP burst; too much of our civilization had depended on computers, and all the computers were inert lumps of silicon and plastic. Without them, the economy stopped; and with the economy stopped, food was not delivered and water did not flow. Famine, disease, riots, wars, revolutions--some nuclear...well, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had gone a-riding, and had cut the world population by two-thirds.
I had three motorcycles left, out of the fifty I'd owned before. Those machines had kept me from starving even during the early years, when things were their leanest. Most of my wealth had disappeared into the electronic ether but there were still hardcopy records which showed that I had money, and as the telecommunications system began to come back to life I was increasingly able to access the money I had stashed in banks everywhere.
And then I caught tuberculosis.
#230: Singularity, part XII
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