VirileMail - Chapter 12Edit
It was mid-afternoon before Kresly and I said goodbye to Nykieta and walked back to the nearest trolley stop. I asked her, "Do we have time to visit the Varna software project?"
There was no waiting trolley car at the stop, so Kresly activated the call button that would summon one. "We could, but it would be best to make an appointment."
No doubt she was correct, but each passing day made me feel more disconnected from Earth. I had been excited to visit Mars, but I was now feeling disappointed. There seemed to be no shortage of Martians who were ready and willing to help the aliens perfect their mind control technology. Apparently there were only a few "rebels" who tried to resist the aliens. I wondered how to find the rebels without getting Janek excited.
Soon an empty trolley car arrived. When Kresly and I got into the car she handed me a piece of paper with a written message, "Do not speak. Visit rebel?" I looked at her and nodded.
She took back the paper and then used her comscree to contact the Varna project and arrange for a visit. "They are expecting you tomorrow. Would you like to do some sight seeing? We can make our way over to Buzhan district and my favorite cafe."
I said, "That sounds nice, as long as you are not getting tired of being my tour guide."
"Not at all! I'm very pleased to have a chance to get to know you and to visit all these key research projects. I think you realize that this entire underground city was built for the purpose of working towards the goal of improving communication between the nanobots and humans. Sometimes I'm stunned when I think how long these efforts have been going on....and now, here we are, and it is in our life time that everything is finally being achieved. Just think Joe, some day you will be in all the history books because of your roll in making Janek."
I was puzzled by Kresly. Here she was, sounding like an enthusiastic supporter of Janek while secretly taking me to visit a rebel. I wondered how she planned to evade Janek who even then must be listening to us. "I would be happier if I had never gotten involved. Sometimes I'm stunned when I think how simple and pure my life was before I got involved in all this."
We reached the Buzhan district and got off the trolley in a residential area. I followed Kresly up a walk way towards a house. She said, "This is my place. We're a bit too early for dinner and the cafe." She took me inside and showed me her office. "I generally work here. I'm the chief sociological Observer for the Asian geo-unit."
She led me through the suite where she worked and out a back door to a pool and a spa. "Let's relax in the spa, then we'll go to dinner." She turned up to full blast the noisy jets of the spa and wrapped her conscree in her shirt then set the bundle near the spa. I started to undress, but she stopped me and just took my comscree and wrapped it in her skirt as a second bundle dropped by the spa before she took my hand and led me back inside to her bedroom.
She pulled on a robe and then took me down the hall to a smaller bedroom. She indicated that I should enter, but after I did, she closed the door and stayed out in the hallway. After a moment I heard her move away from the door. I was baffled by Kresly's behavior. What now? I was in what looked like a child's bedroom. After about thirty seconds I heard a quiet voice, "Now we talk, quiet. Janek no hear us." The voice seemed like that of a cheap computerized speech synthesizer.
It seemed that the voice came from a small box on a table beside the bed. I asked, "Who am I speaking to?"
The voice was definitely coming from the little box...some kind of radio receiver? "A 'rebel'. Like you....free of nanobots."
I decided that this 'rebel' was not a native English speaker. I said, "It seems strange that Kresly has a friend who is a rebel." My understanding was that Observers were of fundamental importance to how the aliens monitored events on Earth and kept control of the human population. "Is she also free of nanobots?"
The 'rebel' laughed, "No, Observer always in nanobot control. Kresly is a rebel sympath. I think, you, too."
I did not really understand what these 'rebels' wanted to accomplish, but I was interested in any individual or group who was willing to question what the aliens were doing on Earth. "I cannot bring myself to trust the aliens. I want to know what their plans are and how to release people from the nanobots and the mind control they exert. Do you know how to do that?"
"Bots out of brains? Here, we ask....it must be done...by alien...alien law. On Earth...." There was a pause.
I tried to complete the thought, "On Earth nobody knows about the nanobots. I learned the secret and was sent here."
I asked, "You have no plan to help Earth?"
There was a long silence. "I plan."
This rebel did not sound very enthusiastic, but maybe there was not really anything more to be done, talking in this way. "Well, I would help, if I knew how. It seems like almost everyone on Mars is a puppet of the aliens."
The 'rebel' finally seemed to react to my pessimism. "We resist. Kresly controls nanobots....some. Enough."
I realized it must be true, that Kresly must have some power to resist her nanobots. Kresly had been able to hand me the note about meeting a rebel and somehow she maintained a rudimentary contact with the rebels without drawing the wrath of Janek and the aliens. It seemed likely that if the Martians had lived with nanobots constantly for thousands of years, maybe they had learned some tricks for blocking out the aliens and allowing some freedom of action. I asked, "But is it really enough? Is there really anything we can do to stop the aliens?" I waited another five minutes, but I heard nothing more from the nameless 'rebel'.
I tried to imagine what might be done to counter the aliens and their plans, but it seemed hopeless. Janek seemed to be in complete control of the situation. Did it matter if there were a few 'rebels' sneaking around trying to resist? My dream of helping Chloe free herself from alien mind control seemed like nothing but a nightmare of frustrations.
I went and found Kresly by the spa. I wanted to ask her what she knew about the rebels and their plans, but she seemed to sense my desire to talk about rebels even before my first question was spoken. She shook her head and stopped me from discussing the rebels. I decided that since she was infected by nanobots it simply was not possible for her to discuss the rebels without the aliens becoming aware of her involvement with the rebels.
Days passed. I visited the Varna software project and met the people who had created the VirileMail software. They were now busily making use of the Lockback chips to boost the power of their own "copy" of the Janek-type AI. I was useless....I had made my long journey to Mars with a hope that I could learn about the aliens and find some way to free Chloe and protect all of Earth from the aliens. But I had unknowingly been part of the delivery of Lockback chips to Mars, providing the aliens with yet another milestone in their relentless program to ever more efficiently control human minds.
The Varna team welcomed me to work with them...and it made sense, their project was the Mars equivalent of the VirileMail project. But I still wanted nothing to do with anything that would help the aliens.
Weeks passed. I had learned something of Kresly's work as an Observer of events on Earth. I spent most of my time reading in the vast Observer records of the history of Earth. Everything was there, the entire sweep of human history. There was something about this great task, the creation of a detailed record of Earth history, that appealed to me. However, when I had asked Kresly if I could become an Observer she tried to ignore me. Finally she had shouted at me, "Yes, alright! The answer is yes! You can become an Observer. The first step is you will take nanobots back into your brain. Is that what you want?"
I'd never seen her upset before. Of course, by that point I knew the rules. Observers were sometimes called upon to go to Earth and anyone with knowledge of Mars and nanobots could only be allowed on Earth if they were under the control of nanobots. Kresly tried to explain it all to me, "Look, it is a fundamental ethical rule for the aliens: they are not allowed to interfere with the development of Earth's culture."
I protested, "That makes no sense. The aliens have done nothing but interfere for millions of years! They take control of human minds and push the development of alien-inspired technology. You keep telling me about 'rules' but the only rule I see is world domination!"
Kresly sighed. "Joe, don't try to be a lawyer. You know how laws work: there is theory and there is practice. If you like, tell yourself that the law is only this: that the aliens cannot fundamentally alter human cultures. For example, by letting Earthlings know about nanobots or the human colony on Mars."
I complained, "All you are saying is that the aliens keep everyone on Earth ignorant. Happy and ignorant puppets. How can you even use the word 'ethics' to describe it?"
Kresly tried to make me see her point. "Okay, then call it 'alien ethics'. I've studied this situation my entire life and it makes a certain amount of sense. If you must, just call it my intuition, but think about it for yourself! Your every instinct is to resist the aliens, to view them as a threat to humanity, but where is that threat? What is really so terrible about what the aliens have done? Maybe you mostly fear the unknown and the future, but is your fear rational? Think what Earth would be like if the aliens were unethical."
It was as if I had foreseen this debate from the first moment when I knew I was on my way to Mars. I had expected to be subjected to human puppets trying to tell me to be happy as a puppet. "Kresly, you are my friend. I've listened to you and I understand what you tell me. Maybe if I live here long enough I will learn to fall asleep and stop fighting the aliens. But that has not happened yet, and I don't care if Janek knows it."
Most importantly, I did not want to fall into that sleep of accepting alien control over humanity and I feared that, with time, I would forget Chloe and Earth and just give up. Maybe Kresly was correct, maybe the aliens were not really that bad, maybe I was a fool to fight them.
Then finally, suddenly, all my indecision and doubt and waiting came to an end: I finally met the mysterious "rebel". It happened when I was on my way home from the market. A young woman got into the trolley car right after me. We said hello and I recognized her because she had been on the trolley with me just the day before.
Ever since my journey to Mars and my discovery that one of the books on the spaceship was a primer on Martian languages, and particularly since my arrival on Mars I had been learning the "market language" of the Martians. It was a conglomerate language that had developed long ago and become the "universal" language on Mars. In my best Martian I said, "We meet again."
The woman looked at me but she said nothing. She handed me a note:
We spoke several weeks ago and you said you would help against the aliens if you knew how. I am Lilya Vavilov, Nykieta's daughter. I have made a vaccine which can protect against the Badhesion virus. I need you to deliver the vaccine to the resistance on Earth. Follow me off the trolley. Leave your comscree behind.
That was how it started. I followed her to a park and she explained her plan. The Vavilov virus engineering project was near its goal. Now Janek needed to find someone on Mars who could deliver the Badhesion virus to Earth. Kresly was being prepared for that mission to Earth, but Janek would prefer to use me if I volunteered. All I had to do was tell Janek that I was ready to return to Earth.
I asked, "But doesn't that mean that I must accept the return of nanobots to my brain?"
She replied, "Yes, that is correct. However, we now have the vaccine and it will make you even more resistant to the nanobots than before."
That sounded encouraging, but I was skeptical. "Have you actually had time to test this vaccine?"
Lilya tried to help me understand the bioengineering. "Through selective breeding, the aliens have long worked to improve the ability of nanobots to interface with human brains. Through many generations the nanobots have selected humans who have rudimentary naturally-occurring equivalents of Badhesins. For many years we have had a version of the vaccine that works to inhibit the nanobots from making use of those natural proto-Badhesins. We've had luck with this approach for many years and this is what allows people like Kresly to gain some independence from her nanobots."
I complained, "But I do not understand how 'some independence' will be enough."
Lilya acknowledged that my hunch was correct, "So far we have just been waiting for the critical time to arrive...this is the critical time. We've finally seen the structures of the actual Badhesins. The design parameters for Badhesins have always been a closely held secret of the aliens, a secret not even revealed to my mother. During the past few weeks Janek took direct control of the evolutionary algorithms in the computerized Badhesin design process and pushed that process through to completion using the computational power of the Lockback chips. To counter the intended use of the Badhesins, all we need is to have the molecular structures of the Badhesins. We now have that structure information and it allows us to make an optimized vaccine. Even though we have not had time to do much testing of the new vaccine, it is based on a simple molecular principle and we have every reason to expect it to work."
"So put away your personal fears of nanobots and worries about subjecting yourself again to their powers of mind control. There is some risk for you, but now you must think of Earth. With this vaccine, the balance of power will shift. The rebels on Earth will reveal to the world the existence of the aliens and their nanobot-mediated mind control. The population of Earth will rise up in revolt and shatter the plans of the aliens."
For the first time I began to believe that it might be possible to fight the aliens. "Janek will not stand by and do nothing."
Lilya said, "When you go to Earth, you will take care of that problem. We've figured out how Janek communicates with the nanobots. I will show you how to sabotage Janek's communications lines and that will isolate Janek from the nanobots. That will prevent the aliens from mounting a coordinated response."
So, it was time for me to return to Earth and everything was quickly falling into place. Kresly briefed me on the details of the mission she had been preparing for. "It is far better that you return to Earth. I've never felt comfortable on Earth, even for conventional Observatons. It will be much easier for you, as a native and recent resident of Earth, to fit in and achieve the mission objectives."
I had initially been worried about the possibility of muscle atrophy due to the low Gravity of Mars, but later I had learned that there was a simple medical treatment that can inhibit the muscle and bone weakening normally caused by low gravity. This protective treatment had been included in the injection given to me by Kresly during the decontamination process I was subjected to during my first hour on Mars. I was still uncertain about my ability to adjust to Earth's stronger gravity. "I should expect no physical problems associated with the return trip to Earth? There will be no need to gradually shift me over from the low gravity of Mars to the stronger gravity of Earth? Will my trip back to Earth be the same duration as my trip from Earth to here?"
Kresly replied, "The spaceship will maintain a steady, standard acceleration, close to that of Earth's gravity. There is no need for a gradual adjustment to Earth's stronger gravity."
That was just the first of many uncertainties that were making me anxious about my return to earth. Plans for my return were moving ahead so fast that I was still in the dark about some basic issues. "You've given me no details about the transport and delivery of the Badhesin virus."
Kresly explained, "There is not much for you to do. The virus will be stored in the cargo hold of the ship. All you will need to do is coordinate with Janek for the details of the delivery of the virus to the molecular biologists on Earth who are constructing the brain-nanobot interface. Janek is secretive. I expect you will not be told how to make the delivery until you reach Earth."
It seemed likely that the aliens knew there were rebel humans like Lilya working as part of a resistance movement. It gave me hope to learn that Janek and the aliens felt the need to be secretive. Surely that meant that the rebels were a serious threat to the aliens. Still, I disliked working in the dark. I knew almost nothing about the molecular biology project the aliens were running on Earth. "I still do not understand this 'brain-nanobot interface'. Aren't the Badhesins the interface?"
She replied, "I'm not a biologist, so it does little good to ask me these sorts of questions. But I think of it as a multi-layer interface, like a sandwich. The two pieces of bread are humans and nanobots. Making a functional connection between humans and nanobots is not simple, the materials are too different, the connection has to be composed of several layers. During the past seven million years, the nanobots have engineered special nanoscale 'adapters" in order to work with Earth's biological systems. However, there are limits to what the aliens could achieve by only using their nanorobotic tools.
"Recently, there has been a major alien-inspired effort on Earth by a team of genetic engineers aimed at producing a better interface for connecting nanobots to brain cells. This improved interface relies on a new kind of subcellular organelle that will function as a nanoscale adapter on the neuron side of the 'sandwich'. The Badhesins are just a sticky layer between the neurons and those organelles....something to hold the layers of the 'sandwich' together, something like mayonnaise." Kresly smiled at the whimsy of her analogy.
I found the analogy useful since I knew little about biology. "I guess what is particularly baffling to me is the overall organization of the alien plans. Why are some tasks done here on Mars while others happen on Earth? Why was the Badhesin work done here but the organelle work is being done on Earth?"
Kresly shrugged. "That's just the way things worked out. There is always an element of luck and chance in technological advancement. When our scientific age started here on Mars, the aliens pushed hard for Martian scientists to understand Badhesins and their fundamental importance. That was really the logical first step towards bioengineering a more efficient brain-nanobot interface. However, our population here on Mars has always been small, so scientific progress often seems slow here. However, on Earth, large amounts of money and many human researchers have been thrown into molecular biology research during recent decades. Earth has pushed ahead of Mars in several technical areas including molecular biology and microchip fabrication. So, as it worked out, the Varna project team here on Mars developed the 'Janek' AI software, but the Lockback chips had to be produced on Earth. Similarly, the Badhesin virus could be made here, but the organelle work is being done on Earth. It is a division of labor that has arisen naturally."
So, my last day on Mars was busy. I tried to get as much information as possible from Kresly about the mysterious organelle design project on Earth and how it related to use of the Badhesin virus.
I also had a final meeting with Lilya at which I was given a dose of the anti-Badhesin vaccine. Lilya handed me a small plastic tube, "This tube contains a dose of the vaccine. Drink it." I unscrewed the cap of the tube, poured the small volume of liquid into my mouth and swallowed. "A word of warning. We have learned that when the aliens say they have removed nanobots from someone, that does not mean that all the nanobots have been removed. In particular, there can be residual 'blocking nanobots' that remain. These hard-to-remove residual nanobots might be something like a computer bug or an endless loop, functional nanobot subunits that are stuck to neurons and that never get removed. This vaccine can actually displace such 'blocking nanobots', so you might notice some strange psychic effects during the next few days."
Lilya also made me swallow a small chain of clear plastic packets containing instructions for production of the new anti-Badhesin vaccine and several more sealed vials containing samples of the vaccine. "You will be allowed to carry nothing onto the spaceship when you go to Earth, so we must use this ancient smuggler's trick. Just remember to check your feces until these packets pass. Note that there is a red plastic tag in this packet with a mail address. Once you are on earth, just mail these packets to that address: it is the best way to deliver the vaccine to the resistance forces on Earth."
I decided that of all the people I had met on Mars I would miss Lilya the most. She was free of the nanobots and was determined to resist the aliens. It gave me hope for the future. I liked to imagine the day when Chloe would be released from her nanobots and would she too would be able to show a similar spirit of freedom.
Then, last, it was time to say goodbye to Kresly at the spaceport. She led me through another round of decontamination so that I would not carry any Mars-specific microbes back to Earth. I thanked her for all her help during my time on Mars and we hugged. It was like going off to college and saying goodbye to your mom. We emerged from the decontamination bath at the dock and I could see the ship. It was a different model and smaller than the one that had brought me to Mars. There was nothing left for me to do on Mars. "I had expected to hear from Janek by now and get my new nanobots."
She explained, "Your new nanobots await you on the ship. Janek will be in contact with you during the trip and answer any questions you have....if nothing else he will be sure to brief you on what you will have to do once you are on Earth. Now, stop worrying and go, and good luck!"
I climbed into a cargo compartment that was similar to the one I had first known as the small office in the guest cabin at Camp Geisler. And Kresly was correct about the nanobots. This 'office' also had a desk and computer, although its keyboard used the character set of the Martian "market language". But, there, next to the keyboard was a small pile of what looked like dust....the nanobots. Kresly closed the door behind me and I felt a slight acceleration as the cargo compartment was loaded into the cargo hold of the spaceship. Expecting more a dramatic acceleration at liftoff, I sat down at the desk. "Janek?"
Janek said, "Welcome aboard, Joe."
I tried to ignore the pile of nanobots and checked to see if the computer had an internet connection to Earth. I was able to reach the Antler server array, and I got its reply quickly. Clearly, Janek had arranged to provide this ship with a faster-than-light internet connection. But that fast connection was of no use to me with the Antler computer network: it would not log me on. My password access to the system had probably long ago been terminated. "I suppose they all think I'm dead."
Janek speculated, "People like Dr. Klein who were concerned about your mental health might still wonder if you just wandered off to start a new life away from your troubles at Antler."
I did not want to agree with anything Janek had to say. "Bah, I don't care what she thinks, just as long as she is not still billing me for missed appointments." I did, however, often wonder what Chloe would do when we next met. My stray thought about Dr. Klein sending me bills got me thinking about the practicalities of my return to Earth. "Have I been declared dead? Do I still own my car? Do I still have any money?"
Janek assured me that I still had an existence on Earth. My only close relative, my brother, had been informed of my disappearance and had moved my few belongings out of my rented house and along with my car everything had gone into storage. "Your bank accounts are still active and being charged for the storage costs. In your state, you cannot be declared dead until three years have passed."
At that moment I felt acceleration and soon I was experiencing a force that felt like normal Earth gravity. Kresly had been correct, after a few minutes of mild discomfort my body adjusted to the change. "How do I make this computer show me an outside view?" Janek had control of the computer and activated the little software application for generating views of space. I was able to get a nice view of Mars as my ship climbed into space.
Janek said, "Open the top drawer of the desk." I did so and found my wallet and cell phone. The battery in the cell phone was dead. "It is up to you Joe. If you want, you can stay on Earth. However, I heard your many conversations with Kresly about Observers and I think you should become an Observer. Now that you are aware of Mars, you will no longer really be satisfied to live on earth."
Janek was correct to assume that the prospect of me continuing to live on Mars held some appeal for me, but only if I could live as a free individual like Lilya, without nanobots controlling my mind. And I most certainly would be satisfied to live on Earth if the anti-Badhesin vaccine worked as expected and could protect me, Chloe and the everyone else on Earth from the nanobots. My fondest desire was to pull the plug on Janek and break his communications with the nanobots, but I needed to fool Janek and maintain his trust. "Well, we will see, but I guess it is possible that I will decide to return to Mars."
Janek gave a very human sigh. "It is that woman, right? Chloe. The more I interact with humans the more I understand your motivations. What do you expect to happen if you show up on Chloe's door step? Do you imagine that she has been worried about you, that your sudden return will prompt her to welcome you with hugs and kisses?"
Of course, that was the general nature of my fantasies. I was not happy that even an alien artificial life form like Janek could recognize my hopes and motivation as being little more than foolish daydreams. "Well, if you understand human motivations then you must know that want to try. I must visit Chloe in order to have a chance to live with myself. Even if she rejects me that at least will put an end to my wishful thinking and let me move on with my life."
Janek sounded exasperated, "Joe, why not save yourself the trouble and admit that she has repeatedly rejected you?"
Now Janek was just making me angry. I decided that it would be a true pleasure to not only isolate Janek from the nanobots, but to shut down the computer net that powered his alien mind. "I must try."
Janek sensed that it was useless to argue with me. "Well, you have to do what you have to do. There are some files on the computer that explain the neuron-nanobot interface bioengineering project. Take a look at that and then we can talk again when you are closer to Earth."
Janek left me to myself. I looked at the pile of nanobots beside the keyboard and wondered when I would be forced to take them into my body, but I was in no hurry for that. I went and explored the ship. The small cargo hold was totally full but only held eight cargo containers, half of which I could not open. I ate a small lunch in the kitchen compartment then returned to the office and started reading about the nanoscale adapter organelle project. There were many files to read, but they were not well organized They were internal technical working documents of the nanoscale adapter organelle project team and represented many years of work. After eight hours of reading and looking up molecular biology terminology and concepts on the internet, I was ready for bed, still mostly confused about just what the project was trying to accomplish.
While I tried to fall asleep, my thoughts kept turning to Chloe and my plans to give her a dose of the anti-Badhesin vaccine. I wondered if the vaccine might help her remember things the nanobots had made her forget such as the day we had worked together and discovered that the 'Janek' AI was pretending to be a human.
I fell asleep with thoughts of Chloe and also woke with thoughts of Chloe. I sat up in bed with a sudden realization, a sudden chain of memories. I could remember telling Chloe that I had proof on a video tape that something had erased our memories. After we had discovered that the 'Janek' AI was pretending to be a human, something had caused us to loose consciousness and something had erased our memories of that discovery. Now I could remember recording over part of the data tape when I recorded my short description of the data. I had then put the label "router/Janek" on the tape and forgotten that the original video data were also on that tape. I could now clearly remember that there had only ever been two video tapes not three. The nanobots had somehow confused my thinking and made be believe that there was a third tape and that I had lost it. The video proof was not lost, it was still on the "router/Janek" tape!
That first morning on the spaceship, I soon realized that I had recovered other memories from the first week of the VirilMail project. In particular, I remembered there had been a series of emails from Dr. Geisler with orders that I help get the VirileMail software running on the sever array. Now that I could remember those emails, I knew there had been two strange things about them. First, they were written in broken English; not at all in Geisler's proper and precise English prose. Second, each of those emails instructed me to delete the email after I had read it. I now realized that this was how 'Janek' had initiated our early burst of work on the VirileMail project, work performed by Brian and myself even before Chloe had officially gotten the project started!
I also remembered that Lilya had warned me about the ability of the anti-Badhesin vaccine to remove residual nanobots from neurons. Judging by the lost memories I had recovered, I could not comfortably think of these "blocking nanobots" as a type of "bug" in the alien nanobots. It seemed as if the residual nanobots in my brain has been specifically maintaining blocks on important memories. Had I not received the vaccine, I would never have recovered these memories! The more I thought about, the more I was certain that Janek knew all about these residual nanobots. Janek had agreed to remove the nanobots from my brain, but had never bothered to mention the fact that only some of the nanobots had been removed. I promised myself that I would somehow get revenge for Janek's deceptions and lies.