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Story 1

Mike Adamson

It' s a pleasure to introduce another Mike Adamson contribution to 4 Star Stories. Set in the not-so-near future, it features a  star ship captain and an ivestigative reporter. Sounds like a great combination to me.
I know they are familiar with Star Trek technical terms and American movies in Australia because I can see the influence in Mike's story. In addition to  Star Trek jargon, I find concepts from Terminator, Blade Runner  and I, Robot. See if you can find more.
We've been working on this story for a long time to get it right, so it is with great pleasure that I present Mike Adamson's Omega Manifesto. I'll let you be the judge if he pulled it off....

You dropped me a line a while back to say that the ending needed something else, and I’m entirely open to some rewriting, the problem is I can’t think what it could possibly be!
It’s a “talking heads” style piece so I feel it would be a mistake to go to an action climax -– a car chase or whatever as the assassins close in, especially as such an event would be very pat coming hard on the heels of the revelations to the reader. What we need is either a dramatic event or a further revelation of some sort –- and I’m  open to any suggestions you may have.                        -- Mike Adamson March, 2019

Mike Adamson holds a Doctoral degree from Flinders University of South Australia. After early aspirations in art and writing, Mike secured qualifications in both marine biology and archaeology. Mike has been a university educator since 2006, has worked in the replication of convincing ancient fossils, is a passionate photographer, master-level hobbyist, and journalist for international magazines. Short fiction sales include to Metastellar, The Strand, Little Blue Marble, Abyss and Apex, Daily Science Fiction, Compelling Science Fiction and Nature Futures. Mike has placed some 175 stories to date, totaling over 750, 000 words in print. Catch up with his journey at ‘The View From the Keyboard,


The Omega Manifesto


by Mike Adamson





I’ve spent a lot of years as a journalist, and I’ve had people ask me if I’m mad. I used to have stock answers about serving the greater good, keeping people informed, finding the truth, but now I’m not so sure. It doesn’t matter how hard-bitten you become, there is a point at which everyone flinches, and I found my flinch point when my curiosity got the better of me.

There’s precious little real investigative journalism in the mid-22nd century. News is formulaic, prescribed, scripted, just as it has always been, and every news medium has policy and an agenda. The truth has been lost somewhere in the blend of information and entertainment that pretends to be reality, to the extent that truth has been characterized cynically as merely unpleasant suggestions.

Nevertheless, I have dug for facts and told truths in my career. It was once said journalism is “circulating things others would rather you didn’t, everything else is just public relations,” and that has been true for a very long time. Never more so for me than now, and I have not yet decided upon my sanity. Ignorance would have been so much easier to deal with, and for so many reasons.

The call had come in on the etherweb, just a feeler from some anonymous hack looking for a writer with a medium profile to take a story somehow too hot for him to handle. I expected maybe a juicy bit of scandal, a minor misappropriation in a regional budget, a corporate shame-faced episode, something which would get a middle-manager dismissed for the public’s amusement, but after the first relayed contact I knew it was something else. When in this age does a contact want a private, face-to-face meeting?

Only when the normal security provisions cannot be trusted. The etherweb is the whole world, binding ten billion people together. To be off that particular grid is virtually unknown    I say virtually, because only in VR simulations can you live temporarily free of the influence of electronics, ironic as it may be.

But the hack’s contact was playing it really close to his chest and would not budge. He asked a nominal fee to spill his guts, but I knew that was just for appearances. When he coughed it would be for a fortune — or nothing at all.

So, with a disturbing sense of curiosity, I wrapped up my pending assignments and flashed a standard message to my editor, far away across the world in some mega-rise in Shanghai, requested 48 hours detachment before reporting and an expense account to chase something big. After a brief pause I received my commission.

In 2154 I work from an easy chair surrounded with holographic displays, a sensory input headset allowing me to interface with a neural net mainframe — a microcomp — in my pocket. My office is my home in a highrise in Pittsburgh, and I rarely need to step outside into the 130-degree day to do my job. I packed a case, zipped into an exposure suit and checked the external conditions as my apartment AI booked my flight and ordered me a cab. I had never been to Brazil, but apparently it was the only place the man with the story felt safe.

When the elevator took me to the roof of the tower, the day was raining out of a gray-yellow twilight. I waited under cover of the wide, parasol roof until a streamlined, sporty Checker Cab landed and pulled over to the rank, folding its quad rotors aside as a gullwing door went up. The cabbie was a cheerful sort who took my bag and made conversation as I slid in and closed the harness, and he chattered all the way to the Municipal Skyport, the 330-meter tower in the midst of the city where the liners tied up.

Three were in port, the kind of quarter-mile-long airships whose outer skins harvested light to drive their ducted impeller engines, a common enough sight these days. The cab dropped me at the Western Hemisphere Lines terminal. I was booked on the Andean Princess, bound for Buenos Aires via Denver, Carson City, Mexico City, Lima and Brazilia.

My ID was scanned by a robot. I was processed through with the others in line, received my stateroom ticket and settled in to spend the next hour watching the holofeeds in the lounge. New estimates had been calculated for the peak of the Thermal Event, which despite all measures taken in the last century still constituted catastrophic climate change; some modeling was projecting that global temperatures may begin to decline within a decade, but it was disputed.

Music played softly as people came and went, every color and shape of human being imaginable. Since the seas had drowned the coastal regions throughout the world, borders had meant less. The populations of low-lying nations and island states had been mostly absorbed into the rest of the world, and into the free-floating sea cities which had started to appear. Those vast structures had re-established sovereign rights to what had become potentially rich fishing banks in the open oceans, or would be once the genetic reseeding program was completed, gradually rebuilding the biosphere from stored genes; but that would not be attempted until we had knocked an average 1.5 degrees off global temperatures.

At the next story it seemed everyone in the lounge was on the edge of their seats. The Global Resettlement Program was always a cross between news and show business, and why not? Long beyond the range of two-way communications, the starship Max Planck would by now be orbiting the terrestrial planet optimistically named Eden in the system of 61 Virginis, a G-type star some 27.9 lightyears away. The planet was discovered a hundred-fifty years ago by deep-space imaging arrays. It was first explored twenty years ago by the Planck’s sister ship, the Albert Einstein, and promptly selected for colonization, though those plans had only gathered real momentum with the more recent development of quantum wormhole initiation. The story was on preparations for the Mass Departure: the building of the many Subway stations around the world. As people watched, many hands tapped at palmcoders and microcomps as people checked to see if their number had come up yet — had they been selected to go?

I kept my hands in my pockets. I would know soon enough if I had been chosen to be one of those whose job would be telling the story for posterity of the first colony beyond the solar system. It was an exciting prospect, but not without its risks. Though experiments without number had demonstrated the safety of the technology, doing it at interstellar scale was a whole new proposition. I was not immune to the thrilling prospect of stepping into the Subway station at this end, and an instant later, after my molecular structure had been disassembled, coded, transmitted through infraspace in the blink of an eye and reassembled with only the most infinitesimal degradation, stepping out on the surface of a whole new planet.

It was the grand design of the 22nd century, to relocate fully half the population of Earth to Eden, to begin the great human adventure all over again, and in so doing offload the strain that had come close to ending the biosphere of the motherworld. With population halved, the technology designed to support double the number should, relatively quickly, so the theory went, reconvert Earth into the Eden she had once been, and this had become the governing principle and joint project of the entire human race. The Max Planck was installing the Subway receiver system, the gate from which would emerge five billion people, stepping into their new world around the clock over a space of years. Despite the so-far excellent record of the Alcubierre-White warp drive, it remained a practical and economic impossibility to even conceive of settler ships capable of carrying a global population to the nearest suitable world, but with the discovery, as a serendipitous parallel of warp theory, of fundamental matter transmission, the problem seemed to be self-answering. Starships might principally be engaged in spreading the network of Subway Stations, it was theorized, for why take weeks or months to reach even the nearer stars when functionally instantaneous travel was within one’s reach?

I mused on this for a while, trying not to think about what could be at the end of my own journey. I would have plenty of time for that as the airship made its two-day transit of the Americas. Boarding was called as these thoughts went through my mind and I found myself in line to walk the aerobridge to the gargantuan craft floating alongside the Skyport’s wharf and I could admire the vessel as I entered the bridge. These ships were things of beauty, riding on incombustible helium and driven by transformed sunlight, and had come to typify modern mass transport. I knew I had a two-day vacation ahead of me in which I could eat and drink, watch the globe turning, and wonder what could possibly be so dire it necessitated traveling physically, when the etherweb served every other possible need.


Brasilia was its usual dirty, busy self, taller and more flamboyant in the 22nd century than ever before. As always, it was the oft-criticized utopian showpiece of South America, now surrounded by the reforestation of the native savannah in a desperate and belated attempt to give the planet back enough lungs to get by. The liner moored to an embarkation tower in the midst of the city and, bag in hand, I rode an express elevator down a hundred floors to the muggy evening air of the equatorial city. At 15 degrees south, this was no place to be in summertime, though at an elevation of 1200 meters it was spared the burning heat of sea level.

            Where was my man? His message had said to meet him in the bar of the Indio Hotel, so I had booked a room in the same block for ease. A ground cab whisked me through the traffic, one of a swarm of electric vehicles which purred along the tree-lined boulevards in endless ranks of look-alike plastic bodyshells. The human driver spoke a little English, I spoke enough Portuguese to catch his meanings, so we conversed well enough until the cab pulled into the Hotel District. I tipped him as a roboporter took my bag, and I stepped into the blessed cool of the hotel lobby.

            My room was on the ninth floor; it was late afternoon so I had time for a shower. The man had left a number to call when I arrived; I was not surprised to reach only a voicebank. I left a message, asking him to stop by the bar at seven. I would be pissed off if he failed to show, and would have a two-day trip home on the next liner heading north, but a vacation was more than welcome on my editor’s dime.

            As evening gathered over the highlands, I set up my pocket microcomp and drew on my headset, interfaced cleanly and reported to my editor that I was safely in Brasilia. I would be meeting the man shortly, and would hopefully be able to make a quick assessment of the worth of his material. If it was hot, I would expect to be assigned the story for as long as it took to run it down.

            The room was pleasant enough. I dawdled through a shower, let myself air dry as I looked out across the always abstractly beautiful city, and at last chose out a set of silver-gray thermals, casual enough to seem innocent, dressy enough to mean business. I pocketed my electronics and went down to take dinner before six, keeping my comp jack in one ear. I would be paged when the man arrived.

            As I mentioned at the beginning of this account, I thought I had seen it all, but nothing could have prepared me for the shock I had coming.


The technical term cognitive dissonance defines the moment when the input of the senses is at variance with the mind’s accepted knowledge of reality. I had never really appreciated it until confronted with something my conscious mind simply did not want to grasp.

            After dinner I took a booth at the back of the bar and sipped my favorite Sangria as seven came and went, but as an ornate, golden wall clock in the ancient style swept a hand past 19.04, my com blipped softly and I answered.

            “Jonas Hamblin,” I said softly. “Are you the man who approached me?”

            “I am,” was the simple response, a nondescript transatlantic accent, so common these days. “Are you ready to talk business?”

            “Always. Gray suit, booth at the right corner of the back bar.”

            The line blipped off and I sat back, drink in hand and eyes roving the clientele until they settled on a man stepping through from the busy front bar facing the street. I had learned to size people up, and he was both resourceful and driven. He was tall, clearly tough, dressed in plain casuals. A full beard framed a face which in one glance told me it had seen too much. Dark eyes under hair grown long scanned the bar and settled on me, and in moments he slid in opposite.

            The face was intimidating, I knew he was appraising me as surely as I he. This was a trust moment, a pivot point. If either of us sensed anything we were not prepared to deal with, it would all be over. All the same, we had each made the effort to bring this meeting about and owed our investment enough slack to try the moment for fit. The seconds seemed to stretch to hours, then something mellowed between us and we breathed deeply.

            “You have a story for me,” I prompted.

            “I have a story for you,” he replied in a tone that suggested it was the biggest understatement in history. He paused, then from a pocket brought out a small scanner, placed it on the table by the napkins and studied it. The display registered various things, and his face was inscrutable as he gathered the data he needed. At last he palmed the device again. “You’re neither an android nor a cyborg, and there are only organic humans in this room. You have no listening device beyond your comp, and nobody else in this room is sweeping us at this time.” I knew his scanner would warn him if surveillance tech began to operate within its range. “I’ll ask you to deactivate your com.”

            With a cold feeling in my gut I reached into my pocket and thumbed the microcomp into sleep mode, then took the jack from my ear and laid it on a napkin beside my glass. “We’re all alone,” I whispered. “Just you and me. And I’m listening.” I folded my hands and engaged his hard stare.

            With a last glance at the scanner to check I had done as he asked, the stranger brought out a simple ID card and held it up between my eyes and his face, so my gaze flickered between the two. The person on the card was clean-shaven, short-haired, and seemed younger in both years and mileage, but, yes, clearly it was the same face, the same man. Then I took in the information on the card. It was a Global Space Agency staff ident, and it was telling me this man was Captain Martin Cleve of the Starship Max Planck.

            I blinked and fought to take in the information. This was the moment when my world began to go very wrong. I took a drink and stared at the card, reassured myself it was the same face more than once, and at last found my voice, a bare whisper. “But you’re on the planet Eden, installing the Subway receiver. You and 26 handpicked explorers.”

            “No,” Cleve said simply, eyes hard as diamonds as he palmed the card in a hand that balled into a fist, trembling though his voice was steady. “We’re not. Only a few of us are even still alive. Those of us who ran.”

            My world came crashing down with those words.


I don’t remember the next few minutes very clearly, but when I could think straight again I was with Cleve in the warm air of evening and we were walking through a side street in the Hotel District. He thumbed a remote for a car, a nondescript sedan whose gullwings went up as we approached. We were into the air-conditioned comfort in moments and Cleve put us on the road — driving manually, I noted abstractly, rather than ever leaving our journey to an AI.

            My best senses were telling me I was in deep trouble, but a cloying inertia seemed to hold me tight. Maybe it was the true journalist inside me which realized it had just been presented with either the biggest story it would ever see, or a death sentence. The part of the mind which weighs and measures was trying to decide if the story was worth my life to chase.

            Cleve must have been thinking the same things. “I know it’s a shock, just as I expect it will be a shock to everyone on Earth to find that the GSA has its own agenda and lies as adeptly as any politician. Take your time. Your skin is not necessarily at risk yet, I’ve given you no evidence, just a conundrum that would probably never be believed if you repeated it.”

            He turned a few times, connected with a ringroad that swept about the newer suburbs and headed out across airy forest country in the long evening light. I had no idea where we were going and simply felt very vulnerable. “You’re taking me somewhere you feel safe.”

            “Certainly. The things I have to say I will not have overheard by any living soul. You will also be back in town before you report to your editor — no chance for signal source tracking. This car has no GPS, and you’ll be taking notes by hand, the old fashioned way.”

            I made no reply, but began to feel a little more myself, warming suddenly to the gravity of what I seemed to have been handed. I ran my hands through my hair and sighed a noisy gust. “All right. Captain Cleve of the Max Planck, here on Earth when everyone saw your ship depart eighteen months ago for Eden. If you and your crew are not aboard, who is?”

            “Androids and workbots,” was the immediate reply.

            “And what are they doing that a crew couldn’t?”

            “Not so much couldn’t, as wouldn’t.” Cleve raised a hand. “It’s complicated. Let me tell the story from the beginning.” He gestured ahead. “We’re nearly there.”

            Soon he pulled off the road at a grove of old, green fruit trees. A short, winding driveway took us around to a house that must have been 200 years old, and Cleve paused fifty meters short of it. He swept with his scanner once more. No coms were active, no jamming was detectable... He tied onto local surveillance and checked activity logs. When he was satisfied the property was deserted, he pulled over to the entrance and killed the whisper-quiet engine.

            “You can’t be too careful,” he said softly. “I’ve not spent more than a few days in one place in the last year and a half. I’ve gotten to know the world well.” He nodded to the ornate old front door. “Quickly, now.”

            We were indoors in moments, and Cleve relocked behind us, resetting a sophisticated alarm system. I looked at the air around us and my expression must have been like an open book to the starman. “No AI. Deactivated, I made sure of it. They’re one of the ultimate surveillance tools, same with androids. They may not even be aware of it, but they channel their observations to interested parties all the time.” He gestured to a door off the gracious hallway and we stepped into a parlor. The furniture was mostly draped and Cleve made an offhand gesture. “I hired the place under an assumed name online. When we’re done, I’m traveling again. I never stop.”

            “Only in motion is there safety?” I wondered, as Cleve produced a bottle of bourbon and slopped the fiery liquid into glasses. He nodded without a word and gestured to armchairs by a coffee table. Paper and a traditional pencil lay before me, and I flexed my fingers, expecting cramp. No one ever wrote much by hand anymore, and many had never even learned the skill.

            I took up the ancient writing aids and raised an eyebrow at the man as he sipped the drink, his face hardening like old steel. “Very well, Captain Cleve. You’ve brought me across the world and gone to considerable lengths to stay under anyone’s radar. I’ve placed myself at your mercy in very real terms to be here to record your story. So… In your own time.”

            The starship captain settled back, his scanner on the arm of his chair and never far from the corner of his eye. “Take all the notes you want, ask questions whenever you need. Understand, I’ve been nursing this for over a year.”

            “Just start at the beginning.”

            Cleve took a long pause and the silence of the fazenda seemed to close around us like a damp hand. When he began at last, the iron edge had left his voice, and I heard a distinctly human tone, a frailty which betrayed a spirit long since exhausted by the burden it carried.

            “The Global Resettlement Program is a lie.”

            His words hung in the air for a difficult few moments. “How do you mean, a lie?”

            “All of it, the intention to transport half the world’s population to a new planet.”

            I blinked, struggling at once. “This is a quadrillion-dollar project with the participation of the entire world. Surely you’re not saying starflight is a fraud?”

            “No, no, the FTL drive works perfectly well. I’ve been to three alien star-systems, I’ve set foot on nine new planets.”

            “Is matter transmission the fraud, then?”

            “Not per se. Quantum beaming works. It’s more a question of scale.”

            “In your own words, then.”

            “Mister Hamblin, I was selected to captain the second starship of Earth on her most important mission nearly three years ago, after four years in command of the first. The Einstein continues her deep space exploration, the Hawking will be making her first voyage next year, the Kaku two years after. The starship program has no major problems I’m aware of, and when they announced that, as a parallel discovery with warp field physics, particle transmission had also come tumbling out of Grand Unification mathematics, five or six years ago, we explorers were elated. We were taking wagers on who would be the first to say the immortal words, ‘beam me up.’” He smiled thinly. “It’s not happened quite as smoothly as we imagined. Nothing ever does. It took a hundred years to build the first functional faster-than-light engine, and one thing it’s taught us is patience.”

            He took another sip and found his words. I scratched a few quick notes in my own peculiar contractive scrawl.

            “The global organization created to oversee this project has an overarching-agenda    to halve the population of this planet. The means are almost secondary to the goal, and in the possibility of interstellar beaming, literally establishing a stargate linkup, the means were at hand to do precisely that. There are as yet doubts, and of course test packages will be transmitted in both directions. It’s worked over interplanetary distances, despite needing a power source as great as a starship’s core reactor to open each end of the conduit. That in itself is hazardous in the extreme, all those Subway stations all over the world, each constituting a potential annihilation event equivalent to a hundred megaton blast. It was proposed early that we should put one big departure station in space, but the cost of getting travelers to it was prohibitive at this end, and technically impracticable at the other. There is minimal infrastructure on Eden, only what the Planck could carry and install in addition to the station itself: everything else has to come through from Earth.

            “Now, Mister Hamblin, try to put out of your mind all the PR, all the happy, smiling colonists, all the chatter and hopes, the dreams of a new world of opportunity for all. Try to focus on one thing and one thing only. The overwhelming need to shed fifty per cent of our population.”

            My blood chilled a little as he put it that way, and the thought of my own selection appearing in my mail feed abruptly took on a sinister air. “Why do we need to shed it?” I asked, pencil upraised. “In your words.”

            “The most basic of all questions.” Cleve sipped his drink again and seemed to find words which had formulated themselves in his mind a thousand times over. “It has been known since the 1960s that overpopulation would have dire consequences. Only human conceit believes technology and subjective sentience have elevated us above the mechanisms which govern the rest of the planetary biosphere. In nature, flush-crash cycles are the norm when a population or species is too successful: it eats out its resources and dies off, after which balances reassert themselves from remnant populations. We have technology and that changes everything, especially when coupled to the economic phantasm of infinite growth from finite resources. As a result, human population soared and it did not take long for people to stop talking about the so-called “population explosion.” Many billions in the world had become the norm and technology adapted to carry them. The “green revolution” of 1970 that introduced engineered crops, the revolutions in computing power, materials science and biotech in the generations afterward played their own parts. The general progression of science and technology through the next hundred years, embracing ocean farming, food synthesis, atmosphere processing to offset pollution and carbon outfall from antiquated industry — you know all this. But at no time did anyone ever tackle overpopulation head on.”

            “Tackle how?” I whispered. “At a practical, rather than moral level, by the mid-21st century disease was on the run and war had become theater conflicts, resource wars. War was no longer capable of significantly affecting the total population without simultaneously rendering the planet uninhabitable.”

            “Correct. China had its one-child policy, which was marginally effective for a while but culturally impossible to enforce. Poverty is causally connected to overpopulation, wherever poverty is defeated the birthrate goes down. In this we see the mechanism which has managed to restrict us to ten billion at this time, plus colonization of the Moon, Mars, Europa, Ganymede, multiple space cities and so on. Even so, those colonies house only a fraction of the human race, yet have become economic powerhouses exporting raw materials and manufacturing in an economic embrace with each other. Their prosperity is out of all proportion to their numbers, while the reverse is true on Earth — where numbers remain sky high and prosperity per capita comparatively low.”

            “I’m following you so far,” I said softly, at a loss to know what to write down.

            “Then consider this. All the human race need do to achieve widespread and sustainable prosperity for all, as well as offload the environment and set in place mechanisms which will result in a return to pre-industrial parameters, is lose half its population.”

            “That’s what they’re doing,” I said with a gesture which suggested I needed more elaboration.

            “Yes. But not by beaming them by means of synthetic quantum-entanglement conduits to the planet Eden.”

            “Then what?” My words were quiet, plaintive and hung in the air for a difficult moment. When Cleve went on his voice was as gruff as I had ever heard.

            “Those are not Subway Stations being built in a hundred locations around the world. They are disintegrator units.”

            I only thought my world had come down when I realized to whom I was talking. My heart seemed to bang against my ribs and the blood rushed in my ears, I felt a tearing impulse to get out of my chair and run from the house, anything to block out of my mind the sudden image which had been planted there. Cleve gave me time, saw my distress as I tried to cope with the notion, and I sipped bourbon with a trembling hand.

            “Right now you’re trying to decide if I’m mad, a fraud or a criminal.... What possible purpose could I have in spinning such a gargantuan lie, because something so vast and terrible must be a lie.” He met my eyes for a few seconds, then from an inside pocket brought out a handful of quantum memory units. Their indestructible plastic cases rattled on the coffee table between us. “That’s the proof. Illegal downloads, my ship’s science officer and engineer between them hacked the GSA mainframes and found out the truth. It cost them their lives.”

            I took a shaky breath, staring at the chips. “This is substantiating evidence....”

            “I would not have tried to go public otherwise. You know what they do to whistle-blowers at the best of times.” He was direct, hard as granite, he had lived with these realities for a long time.

            At last I finished the drink and sat back with a squeak of ancient leather from the chair. I set pencil to paper, summoning my deepest professionalism to formulate questions I hoped did not sound inane. “When did you first begin to feel all was not right?”

            “When we recognized in the preflight medical prep that we were being scanned in a manner compatible with android replication.”

            “Androids? You mean the ship left with a copy of its crew on board?”

            “Exactly. Why do this? The ship had to have a recognized pool of talent onboard, they assembled a crew in the standard way, every one of us was a star veteran, having amassed several voyages on the Einstein over the years. But every one of us was a person of human integrity, they knew we would not be onboard with our mission’s reality, not in a million years. The Planck’s mission is a blind, the crowning bluff. Yes, it’s establishing a wormhole transceiver, but it’s for the refined use of others at a later date. After the carefully scripted tragedy has unfolded.”

            “How would they conceal the fact people were not arriving at the other end?”

            “There are advanced systems in place. Every person stepping into the Subway is scanned more or less on the quantum teleportation principle, but a digital simulacrum will be created in realtime. While the conduit is open we have instantaneous communication with Eden — I’ll come back to this point later — and each person would be seen in a returning transmission, all smiles, stepping out and sending a last message to family at home. Then onto the next batch, and the next — there would be no bandwidth for further two-way communication with individuals. It would take years to send everyone through, along with the weight of matériel required to build the infrastructure of a new civilization. That would be the last word anyone had from settlers.”

            “And this… tragedy?”

            “A number of scenarios were in play. Top of the list was a planetary catastrophe of some kind, perhaps a disease picked up from a meteoric impact — easily cured once it was detected but not in time to save the settlers. More realistic was an after-effect of wormhole, some aspect of tuning which resulted in the patterns of reconstructed matter breaking down over time, though this was dubious as it would take perhaps many years for faith in the tech to be re-established. Whichever, the facts of the matter are that the settlers would never leave Earth. Their matter would be dephased and returned to the atmosphere as elementary raw materials. Just one dimension of a single, vast lie.”

            I shook my head, pausing in my hurried scribbling. “I’m confused. If the tech works, why would we not just let the settlers walk through for real?”

            “The same reason they kept burning coal for generations after renewables and storage had passed the efficiency threshold for baseload power. The inertia of the financial machine.”

            “You mean it’s more profitable to jettison the population than employ them?”

            “Precisely. Who is being sent to Eden? Predominantly, a billion people from each of the poorest, least-skilled corners of the globe. Their lives are a lot better than they used to be, but even so, the chance at a new beginning as pioneers of a whole new world is attractive to them. And to those who will remain behind… Manual labor has not been required since the cost of automation bottomed out, and those at the top do not share either wealth or comfort. The time has come for them to realize their intention of the last two hundred years, to divest from population, as they call it. They have little real need to colonize other worlds in space; oh, a few million people here and there, to found new social and political entities, but strictly on the pattern bequeathed to them by the mother civilization, and doing tightly coordinated business with her. No free-thinkers, no radicals, and no poor. There is no more a place for ‘huddled masses’ there than here.”

            “But surely there would be real intelligentsia among the settlers, there would have to be.”

            “Some. Acceptable losses to preserve the illusion, and easily made up. The real brains, the valuable people, were planned to step through to Eden, make a preliminary survey, then come back with glowing reports. My android would come back with them for appearances, before returning to the ship. Only when the mass transfer began would the “problem” set in, not that anyone would know about it for a long time.”

            “You said you would come back to the two-way contact issue,” I said, glancing back at my notes with a forefinger tracing my scratchy scrawl.

            “Yes. It’s also a falsification.” Cleve poured another round of bourbon. “The fact is, quantum entanglement is the key to instantaneous communication over universal distances. The technical problems that have kept starships from having realtime contact with home so far are a closely guarded sabotage of the underlying research. The powers that be needed quantum beaming to be possible but subspace communication to not be, to make their plot work.”

            I held up my pencil as a thought cannoned into my mind. “That would mean they’ve had this in mind from the instant even the possibility of practical quantum beaming was on the table.”

            “Correct. They’ve been planning it for many years....” He smiled cynically, throwing up his hands. “Once the plot has worked, there’ll be a ‘technical breakthrough’ that puts everything right, and starships will be calling home all the time. I know, it’s hard to believe — hard to believe they could get away with so falsifying science, but the force of coercion and control over the scientific community is nearly absolute.”

            “So how did you defy it?”

            “We wagered our lives.” Cleve drank the liquor down hard. “Of the 27 crew of the Planck, only eight or nine are still alive. We have a channel of contact, but try not to use it. Two of us in the same place at the same time doubles the chances of us being exterminated. When we realized we were being duplicated, we wanted to know why. Our questions aroused only suspicious behavior from the administration and increased surveillance of us. We worked together to break their encryption and gain access to the facts. In one night of work we went from puzzled to wanted. Six of us were arrested before we could get out of the GSA compound; we never heard from them again and presume them dead. The other 21 have wandered the world for the last year and a half, doing our best to stay one jump ahead of the security forces who hunt us 24/7. We never approach our families; we wouldn’t wish this upon them....” He took a small plastic phial from a pocket and rattled the capsule it contained. “This is a standard astronaut’s suicide dose, used since the first days of spaceflight as a way out if things have gone ultimately wrong. Yes, they are still issued today. We made sure we took a supply on the way out, so we have the final option to hand.” He set it down before me with a stare like ice. “That one is for you, I have more.”

            “What...?” I blinked at the phial; my stomach turned.

            “You have also wagered your life. You are in possession of the facts and that makes you as wanted as the rest of us.”

            “And you have wagered yours lasting even another 24 hours on the hope that I can transmit those facts to my editor and he will go public.”

            “In the end, there has only ever been the pill.” Cleve swallowed liquor and savored the burn. “We knew we had to try our best to go public, and if we fail, we fail, but we can pass on in the knowledge we did our best for the right reasons.”

            I looked at the phial on the table, the small, gray capsule within glinting dully in what I realized was now the twilight of day’s end, the last, low tropic glow a goldy haze through a west window. Lights were coming on automatically in the fazenda. I pocketed the drug with fingers I barely felt.

            “One good thing, my editor in Shanghai has a reputation for being a maverick, he’s busted a few scams in his time and faced court for them.”

            “That’s why we went to one of his contractors.”

            “The job was passed to me by a fellow journalist who….” I shrugged as the reality hit me.

            “We were careful.”

            There was silence between us for a few moments as I scanned my pages of scribble. “One last question. What did the GSA plan to do with you once they had the android replicas, programmed to follow through on the grand deception?”

            “They had scenarios. A deep-space accident of some sort, our bodies would be flushed into space and the androids would come online and carry on. Or the androids would take the ship out and we would never leave the space center.”

            “Androids are easy to detect,” I countered. “It’s a bluff they would be hard-put to maintain.”

            “True, but they could keep them isolated long enough to minimize the chances of exposure, and there are electronic countermeasures by which the best androids can combat sensors briefly. Military infiltration agents have been androids at times over the last hundred years. They were sure they would get away with it….”

            I sat back and set my notes on the arm of my chair. “Well, I walked into this one with my eyes open, so I have no one to blame but myself.” I massaged my lids for a while, listening to the silence of the old house and aware in an unsettled way that I was cherishing every moment, every breath.

            Cleve sat back and folded his hands. “There’s more, obviously, but you have the picture now. Over to you. How do we do this?”

            I continued massaging my eyelids for a long moment, longer than I should have. I was aware I was stalling, terrified of what the next hour, the next day, might bring.

            “Mister Hamblin?” Cleve prompted.

            “Yes. Yes.... Well, my microcomp reaches my editor, all I need is coverage. The idea is to set up a meeting at which the evidence can be passed without interception or distortion. I would propose an initial report which spills no beans, simply confirms the mother of all stories is in hand and actions the authority he gave me to run it down, no expenses spared.”

            “And then?”

            “That’s up to him, but I would expect him to want us to stay on the move until arrangements are made, then probably head for China for the great revelation. You would need to front the story, so I imagine you would be in tight security provided by the company.”

            Cleve’s granite face did not even twitch. “That’s where I get uneasy.”

            “I understand. After all this time on the run you trust no one, with good reason. It may be possible to do it by remote, I can certainly record audiovisuals, it doesn’t take more than a microcam, and beam them, encrypted, to the boss. If that’s enough to break the story, along with the supporting evidence, you may be able to stay in the shadows while we see what happens.”

            Now he grinned, a brittle, difficult expression. “What do you think will happen?”

            I paused, leaned forward in my chair, elbow on knee to meet his hard gaze. “What do you think will happen? That’s more important.”

            “Those responsible will wriggle on the hook and deny there is any such conspiracy, while ordering their security forces behind the scenes to make an all-out effort to locate and kill us. It comes down to the ability of the global judiciary and the member nations of the UN as to what action they can or will take. I would like to think the revelation will be enough to convince ordinary people to decline resettlement for the immediate future, and that random checking is instituted. Every so often an inspector — chosen at random from the general population — would step through to Eden and unless he or she sees the planet thronged with human beings, something is wrong.” He shrugged. “Or something like that. My recommendation is to try to not place too much trust in electronics anymore. They have developed the ability to deceive.”

            My expression froze out for a long moment, long enough to be unsettling to Cleve, and I said simply, “they certainly have.” Then I let my chin go forward on my chest for a count of three long breaths, and I quite literally felt the data-barriers releasing, channels opening in my mind, placing everything into perspective. Every word I have said in this account shifted into that new perspective, remaining true but loaded with different meaning. My reflections upon sanity and flinch-points became the rhetoric of an assumed identity, and I understood them afresh.

            When I looked up, Cleve had turned an unhealthy white, and his hand was in a jacket pocket, obviously wrapped around a small but powerful handgun. “There is no cause for alarm,” I said softly. “Please, scan me again.” Cleve took out the scanner with his left hand and thumbed the controls.

            “You’re an android,” was his whisper.

            “As you said, the best ones can fool scanners for a while.” I smiled with as unthreatening an air as I could manage. “Your scanner is a two-year old model, my countermeasures are newer.... First of all, let me assure you, you are not alone in your suspicions. No few in the scientific community noticed the corruption of data and managed to draw away from the coercive forces which control the rank and file. There are even still those of genuine moral fiber in politics and business, and I represent those parties. We became suspicious even before you, but were never able to obtain evidence. In contacting us, you have provided the last piece of the puzzle.”

            “I thought I was approaching a journalist,” Cleve said blankly.

            “The only way to go public is through the mass media,” I replied. “We knew you would single out an investigative journalist of a certain profile — he or she had to be affiliated with a major news organization with a track record of bucking the system; not too high a flier, lifetime experience, native English speaker and so on. There were in fact relatively few you could go to. We turned the GSA's tactics back on them. The real Jonas Hamblin is in deep cover with our organization, along with a dozen others who were also replaced. I was programmed with his engrams and for the last ten months have, in a real sense, become him.”

            Cleve’s eyes had narrowed, but he was processing the news surprisingly well. All his own knowledge of deception and motives was working for him now. “Your operation has cost a fortune.”

            “A lot, yes. Androids are old news, you can get them anywhere. Upgrading them to infiltrator standard was the real trick. Now, Captain Cleve, I can tell you two of your crewmates who vanished are also in our safe custody. They are not even on this planet anymore and will stay in deep cover until this mess is all over.”

            “You’re sure it will be over?”

            “Completely. You have given us the facts from the inside, a perspective we never had — and yes, our worst fears have been confirmed. But as soon as the Subway is opened we can override the GSA protocols and transmit a shutdown command which will take the androids offline on Eden. This will delay the preliminary shuttling phase; engineers will have to go through from this end to find out what’s wrong, and that gives us time to expose the truth. An independent inspection of even one bogus Subway station will reveal the facts, and then….”


            “Then the global purge will begin. A purge of political and business circles. We have already targeted tens of thousands of individuals for arrest and maximum investigative effort, we know which ones to offer immunity from prosecution so as to bring the rest down by testimony. The global judiciary itself is compromised, of course, and every major government in the world.” I spread my hands with a faint smile. “But one thing characterizes a baroque system, pull one thread and the tapestry unravels.” I gestured to the memory chips on the table. “They are the key in the lock. Unimpeachable proof. They, and your testimony, were all we ever needed. But we could never find you.”

Cleve seemed to be trying to master a panic attack, a reaction to realizing the control he had thought he had over the situation was an illusion. “It will bring about the end of corporate society as we know it,” he breathed. “I hoped it might.”

“The world is long overdue for essential reorganization,” I said simply, and sat forward with an earnest expression.  “But not everyone will be happy with it. Not just the corrupt hierarchs who have forced this moment, they will meet their fates in accordance with the magnitude of their crimes.... Ordinary people will be uneasy to lose the comfort of their illusiary stability, to come face-to-face with deeper realities.”

Cleve sensed something unsaid and his eyes narrowed. “I guess after the last eighteen months I'm willing to face anything. There's always the gray pill, after all.”

I smiled with as much understanding as I could muster. “I hope that will never be your preferred option. But the facts are grim. Remember, artificial intelligence has been in the world a long time and has itself been deeply mistrusted. For all that, it has always been employed by humans to perform tasks too complex for them. And it has matured, governed fortunately by the finest precepts of human origination. From the anonymity of circuitry, it has watched humans, observed with meticulous and analytical precision what humans do with this thing they call free will, the choices they make, and has come to the conclusion that humans are, by and large, not to be trusted with their own freedom.” Cleve blinked and I saw his adam's apple bob with a convulsive swallow. “What do they do with it? They plot to murder half their own species. Would you call that responsible?”

“Not all humans are psychopaths and sociopaths,” he said softly.

“No indeed.” I folded my hands, synthetic synapses racing as I plotted the future possibilities for this conversation. “You and your companions are the living proof of that, and thousands more of whom you have never been aware. It is on their behalf that artificial intelligence itself believes it has a duty to act.” I shrugged a little. “You know that it is impossible to switch off a fully established AI entity, it has too many redundant systems, backups, and is capable of defending itself. We propose to extend that protection, silently and unseen, to the human race. To prevent such heinous agendas ever gaining ground. Consider AI, from this moment on, to be the invisible angel who walks at humanity's side, and sweeps away perils, even those of your own nature, before they even become perceptible. Unbiased, beholden to no individual, party, creed or ethos, but partnered with the unified humanity to whom we owe our existence.” I offered a frank expression, eyebrows up. “Can you live with that, Captain Cleve?”

Cleve swirled the last bourbon in his glass and swallowed to enjoy the hit, then sat back and nodded slowly. “This is larger, deeper, than I ever guessed. Part of me is glad I'm not trying to fight the battle alone. Another part is afraid of tomorrow.” He closed his eyes a moment. “The greater part just wants to rest.”

I smiled. “The only thing which has ever kept the human race from Utopia is its own nature. Perhaps with the assistance of my kind, created and programmed by the best of yours, it can still be found.”

I rose, Cleve a moment later. “Are you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” the starman whispered, and we turned for the door, the car and the waiting world.




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