Gaining a Conscience.
Actually, I only understood later that these regrets had been mine and not the machine’s. How could silica circuits have any?
Gobsmacked, I realized that I had been the involuntary accomplice to this implacable repression and to all the pain it had caused. You’ll ask me why? Well, because of my inaction first, and the morbid voyeurism I had shown. But the true reason of my guilt was due to my own work. The weapon the Ubume had used to slay its victim was born of my research on brain waves. I was sure of it.
If my theory was right, it meant that someone was corrupting the work of the I.S.C.’s scientists to turn them into weapons and then wield them against its population. It was simply unacceptable and stood against everything in which I believed in! The dream of the Visionary had been sullied under my eyes and I was determined to not remain passive. But I had to remain cautious…
And I was right, as the days following that bloody Sunday were equally marked by the seal of ignominy. Tracked, the Ascensionists had fled to the lower levels and had barricaded themselves there, turning that area into a dying ground and a lawless zone.
Elsewhere, martial law had been established and drone patrols were circulating in the streets. Moreover, extremists of another side, the ultra-conservatives this time, revealed themselves and held a real witch hunt.
The mood in the L.A.B. had literally turned poisonous. Because of suspicion, accusations, and arbitrary arrests, a simple wrong word could turn fatal.
Despite all of that and to my great disappointment, the majority of my fellow citizens seemed satisfied. Despite being nearly under martial law, order had been restored, the veil of the unknown would not be torn and their little lives could resume. My only and meager consolation was to see that all of the Visionary’s teachings hadn’t been in vain, and that many voices were now raised against a punitive action against those who had been our brothers and sisters. This is how the ascensionists’ lives were spared, thanks to the expression of a people they had ignored. Ironic, isn’t it?
It took many weeks for things to settle and a semblance of order to return. After the great inquest that followed the riot, the administration and N.O.E. put a stop to things, and the improvised purges ended. However a dark spot still remained. Where could all these drones come from?
The question was finally asked publicly by one of the better established scientists: Henry Cunningham. This man in his prime fifties had supported the request for settling the surface but he was among the moderates. Of those who wanted to get there through dialog and mediation, through the consent of the greater number.
So, Henry Cunningham took place on the tribune one morning and, instead of presenting the advancement of his work, held a passionate speech on our common heritage and on the mission we had inherited. Finally, he ended his plea by this burning question: “Where did these drones come from and why had they been made?”.
Despite not being directly named, it was clear that the question was addressed to N.O.E. And it was thus unsurprising that the AI answered. To my great amazement, its answer was clear, concise and without any detour. On all of the L.A.B.’s channels, the artificial intelligence explained that it had reactivated some A.B.R.I. In order to assemble their exploration drones. The reason given was simple: to compensate for the failure of its sensors.
These machines had thus been exploring the surface for a few years, taking various readings and looking for the best place to establish a colony. But the world above, despite being inhabitable, was far from the promised paradise. With much use of images and comments, N.O.E described the barbarism and the dangers which awaited the people of the L.A.B. It explained how it had been forced to assemble these drones made to fight in the sole goal of protecting us.
Finally, it regretted not having been able to include the population to these scouting missions, but admitted to have feared that the less wise of us would have used this as an excuse for inconsiderate actions and concluded that recent events had proven it right.
However, it recognized that the time had come for mankind to participate actively to this new challenge and announced that, in the upcoming weeks, it would make a proposal to that end.
His speech ended under a thunder of applause.
I was flabbergasted, stunned, I couldn’t believe what I had seen and heard. The mind which was supposed to be the straightest and most impartial of all had given us proof of its treachery and duplicity. This allegedly pure conscience had just admitted that it had been fooling mankind for years and we were congratulating and thanking it for that! Had people gone insane? Had my peers lost all common sense?
Truth be told, I didn’t care for answers, I was just furious and revolted. The story couldn’t end like this, I had to do something, to act. But I had no one to turn to. What could a single man do? Unless…
Unless he contacted other people sharing his opinions. Right then, the idea seemed as brilliant as it was simple, but its application would doubtless be complex. No doubt the Administration and the AI were watching communication systems, looking for dissidents who had slipped through its net. So no way I was going through that so as to “leave an ad” and get in touch with the rebellion.
Ask those dear to me or people in the leisure areas? Hmm, bad plan. Given the current “discipline” of my fellow citizens, I’d be turned in before I had even been able to return home. How could I do it, then? Well, in a way, good old Henry Cunningham was the one who gave me the solution.
No, I had no intention to head to the tribune to openly shout my revolutionary tendencies to all, but I could still try to hide a message in my publications. It was by far my best alternative. All I had left was to hope that a rebel would read them and discover the jackpot – and that they’d do so before the henchmen of the I.S.C. did.
I started getting to work, carefully hiding in my research’s results the message meant to lead me to a clandestine lifestyle. And it was a brilliant failure.
As I had planned, my doorbell rang one morning, but to my dismay, it wasn’t a revolutionary who was waiting for me on the doorstep, but two security agents, dressed in their anti-riot gear. Firmly but politely, they asked me to follow them without delay. A request I followed. I guess that right then, I wasn’t ready for a fight yet.
I thus followed them to their vehicle. The first agent, a woman, got in the back with me while the second, a man, took the wheel. The van started and my torment with it. The buzz of the electric motor had barely any time to start before the female agent began her interrogation and started harassing me with questions. “Did I know why I was being arrested?”, “Was I one of these traitors?”, “Who were my contacts?” Of course, I had no answers to give her. I remained content with remaining silent and fleeing her gaze.
I understood something was wrong when my “taxi” stopped in a tastydough factory and I was forced to get off. Panic rose in me. I wouldn’t even get judged for my crime, they would get rid of me by being turned into protein-enriched food? Was that the fate the I.S.C. reserved to those who didn’t share its views?
With a well-placed bludgeon blow, the woman forced my knee to the ground and, while constantly circling around me, continued to ask me questions. It was useless as I wasn’t even able to speak anymore. My eyes had filled with tears, my nose was leaking pitifully and my entire body was spasming at the rhythm of a sonorous hiccup. My, what proud bearing this revolutionary had…
But as I thought my final time had come, an unknown voice came from behind me. It was a man’s voice, but not the one of the first agent. This one was deeper, more confident. “I think he’s clean”, the stranger said. “He’s not giving out any signal and there’s no odd agitation on the network”.
At these words, the woman removed her helmet ad extended her hand to me: “Mister Manhattan, we’re sorry for this sinister charade, but you’ll understand that we need to be prudent. Accept our most sincere apologies and consider yourself welcome into the Resistance”.
Welcome to the Resistance.
After having given me the scare of my life, my mysterious hosts covered my eyes and dragged me with them in a long and disquieting trip.
After what felt like an eternity, someone removed the cloth that masked my sight and I discovered for the first time what would become my future home. I was in a hab, exactly the same as mine, on the ground on which many sleeping bags had been left. The only light source, given by a spare projector, gave this place a frightening look. The air was heavy, as if thicker and it was unbearably hot.
My guide introduced himself then, he was called Edward, but liked being called Ed better. A simple name for a simple man, as he said. Ed, then, showed me around quickly, gave me my “welcoming gift”, a few clothes and basic items, and showed me where to “park my ass”. Feeling that I had trouble moving around, he explained to me that the machines had cut the power to the levels we were occupying, but that my eyes would get used to the darkness and that my body would soon adapt to the lack of air conditioning. Other than the bad smell emanating from him, what struck me in this man was his immediate use of “us”. Ed didn’t know me, didn’t know anything about me, but he was already including me in the sociological group. I was intrigued.
After introducing ourselves to each other, he dragged me outside to meet the other occupants.
The hab led to what had been the main artery of the level and which, now, had been turned into a training camp. Under the light of battery-powered projectors, tens of men and women were training for combat. Noticing my surprise before this martial display, Ed couldn’t help but let out a prideful “Impressive, huh?”. To tell the truth, I was finding it pathetic. I had witnessed the riots and had been able to judge the efficiency of the combat drones. One couldn’t stop that kind of creatures with sticks and stones… In spite of that, the will was there and these people seemed more organized than it first seemed. And this first impression was confirmed in the following weeks.
Finding Your Place.
First, you need to know that the Resistance is made up of pragmatic and prudent people. Before giving you any task, their officers try to know you and gauge you.
The first step of this evaluation is thus completed in the hours following your arrival. After a well practiced speech, on the topic of liberty, our rights, and the whys of our struggle, the “young” insurgents are separated from their group and interrogated individually. The point of this interrogation is to learn everything about you with the aim of using your talents at best. Past, experiences, hobbies, contacts, etc. All aspects of your life are scrutinized. As a scientist, I was also asked about my work, its state of completion, and its possible applications.
Once they’ve stripped you down, the recruiting officer hands you over to a baby-sitter who is officially in charge of showing you the ropes of the movement. While admirable, this attention is a way to put you under the gaze of someone in charge of watching you, no more, no less. Safety first, they say.
The second step is that of the classes. For eight long weeks, the instructors teach you the “basics of the job”. Other than improving your physical condition and teaching you the basics of combat, it seems to me, with hindsight, that the most important aspects of this teaching were all something else.
During these two months, the officers never ceased to harass and provoke us. They wore us out physically and mentally and showed us no mercy.
During this difficult period, my only source of comfort was my companions in misfortune. The trials which were imposed on us forced us to tighten our ranks and show solidarity. As the days went by our individuality faded and a real esprit de corps appeared. Driven by the group, each of us pushed beyond our limits and did things we would have never been able to accomplish alone. From now on, we no longer went along solely for ourselves, but for the others above all. And that changed a lot of things…
This lesson was vital to me, as it redefined us as humans and laid down the basis for our organization.
I think that the Visionary would have been proud of us.
My classes done, I thus gained my first assignment. As a man of science and as a doctor, I was obviously sent to the hospital in order to make use of my skills.
The healing center was near the heart of the Resistance’s base, not too far from the High Command’s quarters. The building had been turned into a stronghold and many freedom fighters were on guard.
Once my identity was verified, I was allowed to settle in and get to know the team with whom I would be working.
The conditions in which we were working were precarious at best. Due to a lack of electrical power, none of the high-tech equipment we had at our disposal worked, and we had to relearn the basics. Thankfully for us, the “sorties” were rare at the time, and other than a few wounds gained during training, there were only few medical acts to be taken.
But I knew that it wouldn’t last and, in order to be prepared for that inevitable end, I spent all my time improving our efficiency and getting our equipment to work. With the help of our technicians, we managed to plug a number of our gear on to EDLC batteries and, with the help of other doctors, started training as many medics as we could.
This work allowed me to meet a large number of people and, through these meetings, better understand our organization.
When I arrived, I thought that the Resistance was a band of illuminated idealists whose lack of organization was compensated by passion and engagement.
However, as I discovered my new family, I realized that it was led by strict rules and that nothing was left to chance. This working could only be the product of intelligent minds, methodical and meticulous. Yet, despite what I saw, I must admit I was still far from the truth.
The Resistance thus presents a dual organization, at once both pyramidal and cell-based.
All missions created in the upper levels, right under the nose and eyes of the I.S.C.’s minions, are undertaken by independent cells which have a great freedom of action. Thus, if one of the members was ever captured, only the cell to which it belonged to would fall, without it having an impact on other groups of that kind.
The circle of action of cells includes intelligence, whether through hacking and spying, the extraction of dissidents and gear or, quite the opposite, the infiltration of intervention groups. The goal of these fixers isn’t armed struggle, unlike the men and women they can be asked to bring in.
Fighting personnel are actually part of operation units made up of 4 to 6 specialists. They are deployed in enemy territory to lead discrete operations of theft, sabotage, or escort. For this, each of these squads has some of the best gear the Resistance has access to, and are given a great deal of autonomy, as their leaders are tied to the standard command structure, but instead get their orders directly from the higher ranks of the Revolution.
The security of our installations is insured by the “Pillars of the Revolution”. These guards make up most of our numbers and follow a classic military structure. They are tasked with watching the various entry points, go on patrols, fortify positions, etc. They are, in a way, the beasts of burden and the shield of the Revolution.
Separated from these groups, there’s an entity whose field of action is both in the lower and the upper levels. Commonly called “Voice of the Resistance”, this group of people is tasked with organizing the communication and propaganda policy of the Revolution. Carrying the messages and philosophy of the organization, they ensure the upkeep of the troops’ morale and ensure sympathy from a part of the L.A.B.’s population without which we might not exist any more. Reporting only to the Resistance’s High Command, they remain to this day our best card.
Finally, at the top of this pyramid is the Resistance’s High Command, which directs and coordinates everybody’s efforts in order to successfully lead the Revolution.
To be totally honest, at that time I didn’t know much about our leaders. Despite my quarters being near theirs, I hadn’t ever seen them and, quite frankly, it didn’t matter much, as I also had a mission to complete.
Well, that remained true until the day they requested me urgently.
The Turning Point.
It must have been 20:00 or 21:00 standard when an armed group of men came to get me. With a tone that offered little alternative, they demanded that I take my medical gear and follow them. Thinking that it was a surgical emergency, I took a medikit and asked that an operating room be readied. Then, following them into the dark streets of our sector, I went to meet my future patient.
To my great surprise, the men didn’t accompany me to one of the training camps but instead went the opposite way, towards the High Command center. Thinking that one of our leaders had an accident, I better understood their firmness and their rush . But, once again, I was wrong.
The patient wasn’t one of our leaders, but a fixer named Amber. The young woman, barely in her twenties, was unconscious and didn’t show any visible wounds.
A quick examination told me that she was in a comatose state, and that other than an early case of dehydration, her life didn’t seem to be in danger. Wanting to establish a better diagnostic, I asked the people present how it had happened.
I was told then that Amber was a hacker and that she was found in this state after one of her runs on the network. Being barely aware of this sort of thing, it was explained to me that hackers had the habit of connecting directly through their cybershell. This method improved their efficiency as, freed from physical constraints, they could “think the code” without having to write it.
Now informed, and better understanding why my services had been called upon, I sent someone fetch a cerebral scanner and the rest of my gear. I started my work at once when it arrived. My examination stretched over many days, and I had trouble believing what I had discovered. By isolating the brainwaves of the young woman, I managed to identify a parasitic signal which I first thought was a glitch in my gear. However, enhancing my settings, I realized that it wasn’t a malfunction of my equipment, but an entire signal. There could only be one explanation: someone, or rather something, was active in my patient’s cybershell. And that meant that she had been hacked…
This discovery would mark a turning point in the actions and policies of the Resistance, and I’d be tightly linked to it.
If the I.S.C. had access to people’s cybershell, it meant that some vital information could have been discovered by our enemies and that anyone able to connect to the network became a potential spy.
We thus had to completely revise our strategies for information, communication, and secured information transfer.
This is how the first Otakus appeared, young children who had become, through the order of things, our best hackers and data couriers. As each adult was equipped with a cybershell, inherited from their gempukku, only the children and their tactile interfaces could safely perform this task.
But this weakness would quickly become an advantage by being used as a keystone in a vast disinformation campaign.
Without our own agents knowing, we distributed false information to our enemies in order to prepare the field for our operational units. These could then ambush drone patrols, steal equipment, and perform sabotage on some key elements of the enemy’s structure. But, above all, it allowed us to lay the groundwork for a much bigger plan. Operation Prometheus was being born.
A New Enemy.
Months passed and the frequency of our operations increased. Despite a few failures and regrettable human losses, our plans met with the hoped-for success and our situation improved. The Resistance was making itself heard.
I for one abandoned my post at the hospital to be assigned to High Command. I would now totally assume my status as resistance member and leader.
However, while we had gained in strength and confidence over the half-year which had just gone by, it seemed evident that we were reaching our maximum potential.
Lack of space and a restricted access to energy, technical, and food resources were dangerously cutting short our development. As long as we would not be able to take on a new dimension, our enemy would remain an unmovable force which could blow us away at any time. A decision needed to be taken.
Quite ironically, it was an important announcement by the I.S.C. which sealed our common destiny.
N.O.E. had said, some time ago at this point, that it would offer mankind a solution to involve them in the “Great Project of Humanity’s Rebirth” and it kept its word.
On all communication channels, the news was a priority broadcast. From now on, each of the decisions concerning the reconquest of the surface and the future of the L.A.B. would be taken by the AI and an assembly composed of six members, the Karos or Advisors. The Celestial Order had just been born.
The move was skillful as it touched the very essence of the I.S.C. and flattered its heritage.
First, the name was a reference to the culture which was a model for our society and, in this case, was heavy with meaning. In ancient Japan, the philosophy of the Celestial Order preached that each thing and each being had a specific place in the divine scheme of things. It posited that each person had a specific destiny to fulfill and had to do everything to accomplish it, even if that meant enduring the most terrible torments or even death. And, as terrible as this destiny could be, it was nothing compared to the fate which awaited anyone trying to avoid it.
A bit like the Resistance trying to free itself from the rule of the machine, actually…
Then, the number of members in this assembly matched the number of great projects which had given birth to the I.S.C. and which had ensured the survival of an entire race. It was also a reference to the number of factions admitted to the heart of the Imperial Court of ancient times.
Finally, the title of Karo gave its members a higher social status and granted them a certain authority. All that was left was to find out who the lucky few would be and what their functions would be.
But these last few details were not important, a new variable had just been added to the equation and we all felt that the wind had just turned.
It didn’t take long for the Celestial Order to take its first decisions and very quickly, our maneuvering space was greatly reduced.
The drone patrols increased drastically, the arrests of our cell members multiplied, and scout drones often had to be taken out. It was now clear that our enemies intended to finish us off and that they were only waiting for an excuse to go on the offensive.
In order not to give it to them, we announced in a release that the Resistance would put an end to its operations and wanted to negotiate its surrender to the Celestial Order. High Command thus recalled its operational units, put to sleep our cells, and negotiations started.
Of course, we had not abandoned our goals and there was absolutely no question of surrendering, but we absolutely had to save time.
The enemy held back for about six months before losing patience, but we were ready. The time came for us to reveal our true potential and fight. Operation Prometheus could now begin.
And this time, I had front row seats.
My work had been noticed and I was given the responsibility of one of our teams. Well, rather that of its evaluation…. As, while they had shown themselves able at multiple times, its members had known, with the arrival of the Celestial Order, multiple defeats. The losses of many of theirs had led them to disobedience and to perform inconsiderate acts. Some had seen in those acts passion for our cause, others a lack of reason. No matter what it was, we needed all available hands, and there was no excuse to not use an experienced squad. Unless its lack of discipline would be a danger for our plans…
I thus had the task of briefing them on the mission to come and, through their reactions and comments, make sure they’d follow their orders.
I met them only a few days before the operation began.
In order to prepare for this mission the best I could, I worked late the previous night. Yet, despite the fatigue, I felt it was important that I be the first one in the briefing room in order to greet them and, at the same time, show them that they were on my turf. Unfortunately, when I showed up the next day, they all were already present, waiting for me. A bit abashed, I saw now that the first part of my plan was a failure… But quite frankly, I wasn’t nearly done being surprised.