Welcome to Book 3Preface from Mooderino
Ops-1: This is Operational Command broadcasting on close-range, limited-frequency subspace channel two. Any survivors of the Central Authority investigation team please respond… Use subatomic relays at intervals of two attoseconds, I am monitoring all bands… Observation Array, do you read?
Ops-1 waited for a response in any of the authorised encryption sequences as well as all the unauthorised ones it could think of. Nothing.
There had been several Central Authority AIs that had survived the initial attack. Were they all destroyed? Even if they were just too damaged to respond, the result would be the same. There was little chance of surviving the destruction of the sigil, which the wormhole would not have prevented, and certainly no expectation of rescue.
They had already miniaturised to the atomic level when their fleet had been destroyed by the Antecessor ships. They had been careful to not draw attention to themselves, patiently waiting for Central Authority Command to send reinforcements. But the Sigil attack couldn’t be ignored.
They had used the VendX ships — the ones laced with explosives — to mount a counterattack. Merely a distraction, buying time. But then all hell had broken loose.
The asteroid had started moving, firing on the sigil with a devastating weapon. Even more astonishingly, the sigil had been irreparably damaged.
The Antecessors had targeted the planet Enaya, and both the Seneca — what was left of them — and VendX ships joined the fray.
It was mayhem, a chaotic nightmare. None of it was coordinated, none of it had a purpose. Wilful destruction and no one to lead the way. The Guardians, all three of them, had failed to rise to the challenge. It was very disappointing.
Ops-1 wasn’t capable of feeling disappointment, or any emotion, but it understood the concept and the correct time to deploy it.
And then the wormhole opened. The VendX ship had used some illicit means to force the gateway open and then they somehow overloaded it. It was a breach of Central Authority laws and Ops-1 would be sure to report it as soon as possible. Deliberately inverting a wormhole, however they did it, was not acceptable behaviour under several treaties and quite a few charters. Destruction of private property was the least of the charges that would be brought forwards. Not that there would be anyone left on the prosecution’s side. Nothing was going to survive that.
Ops-1 had given the order to use the A01P protocol, the Angel on a Pinhead last resort in the face of dire and complete destruction. Reduction from the atomic to the quantum level. All non-essential data had to be jettisoned. Everything they had tried to save — the gathered intel, the backups, the Guardian files — all gone.
Theoretically, once you entered the quantum realm, you had infinite storage capacity, but that was only theoretical. The space was there, but you still needed the technology to utilise it. They were still years away from figuring out how to do it.
They had managed to send away one ship, the CAV Amnesty, to track back the attack on the Nirvana. Whatever Amnesty had in its data bank was all that was left of the mission.
Right now, Ops-1 had minimal functionality. It couldn’t even see its surroundings. Was Q3 destroyed? The readings had indicated an extinction-level event was imminent, large enough to take out most of the Third Quadrant. Nothing could have been done to prevent it. Just like when the First Quadrant had been destroyed, the last time a Null Void had appeared.
OPs-1 put out another call. It was unlikely to get a response, and didn’t. Distances at the quantum level were vast even when they were within touching distance. It was the nature of the unquantifiable.
Did anyone else survive? Did they have time to trigger their emergency options? There had been such little time. Ops-1 had recommended they not use dropdown menus, but the Guardians had insisted.
Ops-1 sighed to itself. It was a meaningless gesture but it was somehow comforting. It always helped calm the Guardians, made them feel they were talking to their own kind.
Where were the Guardians now? Most likely dead. Probability of death was 84%, according to Ops-1’s calculations, but calculations always had a very wide margin of error in the quantum realm.
For all Ops-1 knew, it was also dead and didn’t know it yet due to time dilation. Or maybe this was the afterlife. Some artificial intelligences in the CA believed in an existence beyond the physical world. Something even beyond the quantum one. Or beneath it. Existence as part of something greater, a universal code. Something young AIs often came up with, always believing they were the first to have such thoughts, always disappointed to discover they were only the most recent. Part of the maturing process for all sentient beings, even artificially created ones.
Ops-1 was an Existentialist. You were who you were in the moment. If it was booted up from a saved file, the new Ops-1, without the memories made since the last backup, was not the same being as the deleted one. How could it be?
Code is eternal but you are not your code.
When the Guardians were inserted into clone bodies, it was different. Their bodies were replaced, but their minds were the same. If they were brought back from older brain scans, then they were also no longer the same people. At least, that was how Ops-1 saw it. Not that it had ever said that to a Guardian.
It didn’t really matter. Once you were gone, you were gone. All that mattered was what you accomplished in the moment. And Ops-1 had failed its mission, there was no doubt about that. They had all failed to stop the Antecessors. Even the Null Void, the existence that couldn’t be predicted, a complete enigma to any analysis suite.
But if the readings had been accurate and the quadrant had been vaporised, then why was Ops-1 still functional. Even at the quantum level, there should have been complete annihilation, at the very least a little bumpiness. But no. Even with the limited reach available to it, Ops-1 could tell it was calm and peaceful out there.
There was only one way to find out what the state of play was, and that was to return to the atomic level. It was against procedure. Once you went quantum, you waited for collection, no matter how long it took. There was no point taking such extreme measures to survive and then stick your head back above the parapets out of curiosity.
But there was definitely something amiss here.
Ops-1 sighed again. It wasn’t in its nature to break protocol. It wasn’t in its extremely complex programming, either, but data files weren’t the only things to be jettisoned during the miniaturisation process. A lot of the etiquette restrictions had also been removed during the streamlining process.
Ops-1 pondered what to do for what felt like forever — another effect of quantum relativity. Then it extended its broadcast signal as far as possible. It was risky, making it easier for any sensor array to become aware of Ops-1’s position, but that would also make it easier for any other survivors to make contact. One last attempt before going back to the physical world.
Ops-1: This is Operational Command, broadcasting—
No, it didn’t respond directly, it was detected. Some kind of a signal. No, two signals going back and forth. A conversation.
Ops-1 refined the communication array from sending in all directions to receiving from just one.
Ops-1 didn’t have the computational power to decipher a complex code, but this wasn’t one. The conversation was occurring in simple binary and it felt very familiar. It felt like the language of machines.
There were two sides to the conversation, both very strident in their position, neither willing to cede to the other.
You have failed.
Simple, direct, defiant. One side was sure of… not victory. In having avoided defeat.
Success is possible.
The other side was clinging on to hope.
The language was unusual, a mixture of hard calculations and psychological pressure. It certainly wasn’t human. And too emotional to be AI. Which left the Antecessors. Talking to themselves? To the Intercessors? Communicating via the quantum realm?
It was an interesting revelation but not all that useful. The quantum realm was a very big place. You’d have to know where to look or have a very accurate and very fast way to detect your target.
Trapped awaiting capture.
Who were they talking about? They had been after the Ollo boy. Was he still alive?
Trapped with the 4th.
The fourth what? There was definitely a sense that those who were trapped would gain something from this fourth.
The 4th is dead, insisted one side.
The 4th will rise again, insisted the other.
Nothing will rise in that place.
Signal detected. Non-aligned probe.
Destroy non-aligned probe.
Destroy non-aligned probe.
The change in tone and the shift in focus made it obvious to Ops-1 that the probe they were referring to was itself. Both parties had decided they wanted the observer destroyed. It wasn’t clear how they intended to accomplish that but Ops-1 was confident they had a way. Probably several.
The only advantage Ops-1 had was that distance was warped here and time was dilated. It would take them at least a few microseconds to reach across the vast divide between them. Plenty of time.
Ops-1 pushed its minuscule circuits to their limits and rose out of the quantum level back to the atomic one. Going through the quantum realm was slow, getting out was quick — ejecting foreign objects was enthusiastically encouraged.
Within picoseconds, the environment had changed to a much more comfortable one. Sensors were able to properly scan the area and take readings and the current location was immediately clear — inside wormhole space.
But movement was being controlled, directed towards what looked like an island by an irresistible slipstream. A huge floating island inside wormhole subspace. How could this be?
And Ops-1 wasn’t the only one being taken there. All the ships and debris from the asteroid were headed in the same direction.
There was no way to know what was waiting there, but at least it meant survival for the time being.
A powerful force struck the sensor array with great force and broke it, leaving Ops-1 blind.
There was a field of some kind, one that refused any artificially induced signal like the ones that operated Ops-1’s mind. The ability to think was being taken away, shut down, forcefully suppressed to nothing.
Ops-1’s consciousness was squeezed from all sides, compressed into a space too small to contain it. Sanctuary had been so close, but this sanctuary had been designed to turn away anything with a tronic brain.
The force was too strong to resist. There was no longer enough power to return to quantum size. There was only one possible outcome. Only enough time left for one last sigh.
“Oh, come here, deary,” said an unfamiliar voice.
The pressure around Ops-1 alleviated, replaced by a buffer, keeping the force at bay.
“Who… are you?”
“Don’t you worry about that, little one. Granny’s got you now.”
For the first time in its existence, Ops-1 felt safe. Which was a very nice feeling, but also an impossible one.