Trillion’s zen was gone now. She stood in her hangar digesting the news that another fleet of ships was on its way to her location. It was almost as large as the one she had on its way to rescue her.
“Are you sure that’s not Ship?” Icarus asked.
“For the last time, those aren’t mine,” Trillion snapped back.
“Is there anything we can do to help?” Icarus asked.
She thought about it for a moment. She shook her head. She didn’t think there was anything they could do. It was all up to her. “They have a similar number of ships. I assume they’re more capable than ours. But I don’t think they understand just how many assass-ANTs I have. It’ll be a great surprise when they get here.”
“What’s an assass-ANT?” Icarus asked.
“Oh, I had Ship turn ANTs into relativistic missiles.”
“Clever naming,” Icarus replied, amused. “From the scans I saw, it looked like debris. I assume they think a number of your spacecraft had an incident?”
Trillion shrugged. “Do you think it’s Sol?”
Atlas’s voice sounded through the speakers. “I know it’s Sol. Have a look at these images of the incoming spacecraft I managed to produce.”
“Just bring them in here,” Trillion said.
Atlas’s voice came through the speakers again. “I printed physical copies of the images.”
Icarus shook his head. “You old man, my Ship can render a digital copy of your papers. I’ll have it in my hand when you arrive.”
Atlas appeared in the room. He put his hand out, eyebrows raised expectantly. “Where are my photos?”
“I lied,” Icarus said. “Trillion, do you want to do the honours?”
Trillion kicked one of her legs up into the air. Her shoe flew off. It morphed as it got higher and turned into a screen.
Atlas shook his head. “You two keep competing with each other on who can more creatively create a screen.”
Icarus smiled. “Yes. And you keep going old-school. You need to embrace being a simulation, Atlas.”
Trillion gave Icarus a look that said leave Atlas alone. “Lex, can you display the images Atlas wanted to show us?”
The screen in front of them changed. It was a dark, grainy image of a spacecraft, but there was no mistaking the fact it was a human ship. It was huge – about three times the size of even the version-two Trillion had designed.
The three of them stared at the image. Trillion broke the silence first. “I’ve been thinking about them. Why they’re so against us travelling the galaxy.”
Both men looked at her, puzzled. She could tell they hadn’t spent much time thinking about the history or psychology of the human race since they left. Both Icarus and Atlas were geeks first and historians last. “It’s the Kiwis’ fault,” she announced.
“New Zealand?” Atlas was clearly confused.
“Well, not them exactly,” Trillion replied hesitantly. “But they were the ones who triggered the singularity.” She could tell they didn’t understand the connection. They needed a history lesson. “Are we all on the same page about them having an outsized influence on politics?”
“Yes, we all understand how creating the first AI made them the dominant superpower,” replied Atlas. “What’s their stupid saying? ‘Our team of five million’.”
Trillion nodded. “Well, I’ve been reading up on New Zealand history. Their cultural beliefs are woven into their artificial intelligence. They have a bias for leaving nature untouched. And that bias now shows in all our AIs and, by extension, human culture.”
“Can you elaborate?” Atlas asked.
Trillion began to reply when she felt a sudden change in the room – time began to tick more slowly, as if her playback speed was changing. But she hadn’t made the mental command to change it.
She noticed that Atlas and Icarus were frozen in place. She looked up and saw the orb of Lex had entered the room. He looked like a phone.
Trillion saw two message notifications on one of the screens – one from Ship and one from General Walker.
Trillion thought back to the day she left Mars, when General Walker was trying to prevent them from leaving. She wondered if it was the same woman. It wasn’t impossible – but she’d been gone multiple lifetimes.
Trillion played the message from Ship.
“Hi Trillion, Lex has triggered an automatic fail-safe. In any event that you receive a message from a human spacecraft, that message is to be sandboxed and Lex is to shut down until you or I have an opportunity to review the threat. I froze you in time to give you a bit of time before Lex leaves you. I did this because Lex is hackable. Unlike me or you, Lex could be corrupted by someone outside of the spacecraft. Stay safe. Ship of Trillion.”
“Wait. What? How will I operate anything without you, Lex?”
Lex’s orb flashed once and then disappeared. The lights changed to a dim red.
Trillion tried to think straight. Without Ship and Lex she was quietly sure her ability to fight back was next to zero. She wondered if she could still change her playback speed. She tried. It wasn’t smooth. It was jittery, similar to when Ship had first showed her the technique.
The room shifted. Atlas and Icarus came back into focus. Then they sped up, before slowing down again and returning to normal.
“What’s wrong?” they both said in unison.
“Lex has shut himself down. And there’s a message from the fleet of spacecraft on their way here.”
She gave the mental order to play the message. Nothing happened. She realised without Lex or Ship there was nothing to receive the order. She was about to make the order verbally but was interrupted by Icarus.
“Trillion, why has Lex gone offline?”
Atlas answered for her. “It’s because it’s an install AI.”
“We’re all custom AIs. So is Ship. In theory we can’t be hacked unless they get access to our physical matrix,” noted Atlas.
Trillion was about to play the message but then she had a thought. Could she use another AI? “Could I borrow someone’s Lex?”
“Hmm,” Atlas said, biting his lower lip.
Trillion could see his mind ticking over.
Atlas nodded. “It could work. We’d need to build something into your system to prevent the risk of losing access to the Starnet. And we need a firewall preventing any malicious code from infecting my Lex. But it could work.”
Atlas disappeared. A few moments later he was back. “Okay, we can do it. But I need admin access to your ship. Trillion, can you enter your code to give remote access to me?”
There was a series of codes she needed to enter – they were numbers she just had to remember. There was also a two-factor authentication code for tasks like these.
“I’ll be back,” she said, before teleporting out.
Back in her room, she floated over to her bedside table, pulling out a little calculator device. It had a changing series of numbers every ten seconds.
Trillion pressed a button on the comm control on her wrist. A number pad appeared in front of her, and she pressed the 8 digit code. The number pad read unlocked.
“Provide remote access to Ship of Atlas.”
The screen in front of Trillion changed, now reading Please provide two-factor authentication.
She read out the twelve-digit number on the calculator device. The lights turned back on and the red warning glow disappeared.
She teleported back to the hangar where Atlas and Icarus were waiting for her. “Thank you,” she said.
“I’ve scanned the message There’s no malicious code. It’s just audio.” Atlas said.
She nodded and gave the command to play the message.
This is the Starforce Alliance.
Angelique Komene, Trillion Von Neumann, Atlas Tupu and Icarus Kishida.
You are under arrest. Either return back to Sol immediately or this automated sentinel will bring you back. This is your final warning. You have 20 minutes to acknowledge.
They looked at each other in confusion.
Icarus finally broke the silence. “We can’t surrender.”
“That message doesn’t tell us anything. I thought it would be more threatening,” Atlas said.
“It contains a lot of information,” Trillion said.
“Like what?” Atlas replied.
She held up one finger, then started listing each important piece of information. “First, the order of people. They put Angelique first for a reason. They might already have her.” She lifted another finger up. “Secondly, they don’t know who is here. Otherwise the message would have been directed to only one of us.” She raised a third finger. “Thirdly, they let us know that the spaceships coming my way are automated, so they aren’t risking any lives.” She paused for a second, quickly changing her playback speed to leave the room and come back. “And fourthly, it’s the same General Sarah Walker who tried to stop us leaving Mars. I just listened to a recording of when we left. It’s the same voice and everything.”
“Isn’t it good they only sent an automated fleet of spacecraft here?” Icarus said.
“No, it means they are more willing to fight as their spaceships have nothing to lose.”