Because I had hoped to have the book finished by now, I feel it necessary to slip the readers a bit more for the Holidays. Usual disclaimer, this may change in the final version.
Captain Isabella Conner sat on the bridge in the command chair of Kola, the largest ship of Earth’s fleet. Something best described as half battleship and half spacecraft carrier, she boasted a massive offensive capability. Her hangars were filled with fighters, combat patrol ships and assault transports. Her outer hull was bristling with both projectile and energy weapons of every kind.
Under normal circumstances, Isabella would have been rotated out of her position as Kola’s captain years ago, promoted to a command slot over several vessels. Kola, however was not an ordinary ship.
“Position?” Isabella asked of her navigation officer.
“We are just outside the Neutral Zone detection limit, near the location of the last alert,” came the reply.
They had long ago established the safe range a ship could travel along the negotiated boundary between NeHaw and Earth space without tripping the NeHaw or human sensor nets. Their own net was a combination of Faster than Light or FTL inhibitors and relays for NeHaw alerts. Even if the earth inhibitor didn’t activate, it would transmit the NeHaw alarm should it detect one.
“Anything?” she asked, referring to the space around them.
“I do not detect a ship on either side of the boundary,” Kola replied.
What made this ship so special was its central computer. As in the ALICE facilities on earth, the heart of the ship was an Artificial Life Form accidentally created when the human scientists combined NeHaw and terrestrial technologies. The attempt at Artificial Intelligence had exceeded anyone’s expectations, delivering a synthetic life form that gave Earth capabilities surpassing all the other alien races.
“Do you think the NeHaw are doing this on purpose, testing our response time?” Isabella asked as she considered the question.
“That is possible, but to what end? Nothing has changed strategically between the Races since the establishment of the treaty,” Kola replied.
Isabella understood Kola’s meaning. Since the treaty was established, both Humans and NeHaw had reached an unspoken understanding. A minor effort was made to maintain the boundary set forth in the treaty, but both sides really focused on rebuilding their economies. For the humans, it meant working to create a thriving trade between the Earth aligned worlds as well as resurrecting their own planetary population.
Jake took that as an opportunity to transition from a war time economy to one more suited to civilian needs. That mostly meant a huge influx of funds from earth to the alien planets, buying whatever Earth needed to promote and accelerate its internal recovery. Isabella knew that the humans couldn’t support everyone forever, but so far, the transition had been a good one.
As far as the NeHaw were concerned, they were on the same track. Isabella was aware that Earth had breached the secure communications network of the High Command. She didn’t know how, other than it was related to an SAS mission during the war. What she did know was the information provided indicated the NeHaw were far more focused on rebuilding their fractured command and restructuring their empire than anything related to Earth or her allies.
Protests and rebellions had their government restructuring relationships across their empire. Some of the intelligence she had seen indicated a retraction of influence the NeHaw asserted on their side of the line in space. She wondered how many planets found themselves fending for themselves because the evil overlords found them no longer a necessary asset.
Then there was the smuggling. Earth had the good fortune of occupying a portion of space that contained a treasure-trove of alien technology and manufacturing. The Wawobash Shipyards were the largest in all of NeHaw known space. Combined with Kortisht Faster than Light drives and Crustacea instrumentation and communications, they only need ask and Earth could order anything they needed for defense of the sectors and recovery of their planet.
That same technology was also in great demand on the other side of the Neutral Zone. The NeHaw were struggling to replace their suppliers in both quantity and quality. Isabella knew Jake and his inner circle had struggled with the issue early on. In the end, it was decided that they would turn a blind eye, allowing a limited amount of technology to slip into NeHaw hands.
The decision was beneficial twofold. First, it helped the earth aligned alien economies, as the NeHaw were paying top prices, in advance for a change. That allowed Earth to subsidize those same planets without the out of pocket expense.
The second was, all primary supplier planets now had a resident Human Ambassador either in orbit or on planet. A new concept for the participants, it indicated their value to the collective good. It permitted immediate access to an earth representative for negotiations and protection.
It also allowed the ALICEs’ an extension to monitor the comings and goings in space. The relevance of this all was ships could pass through the boundary without detection if the NeHaw were involved. Earth new exactly how much material was leaving off planet for NeHaw space without actually having to impose their will. She was sure the aliens knew what was going on but everyone seemed to be following the unspoken rules.
“Ma’am, there is something out there, but it’s really small,” the tactical officer declared unexpectedly.
“How small?” Isabella asked.
“Well, I normally wouldn’t have detected it, but as I was flipping through the sensitivity settings on the scanners it popped on the screen.”
“I would say it’s about the quarter of the size of a DMZ monitor, maybe smaller. Some kind of cube and its moving in a straight line, at sub-light speeds.”
“Moving. On its own?” Isabella asked, knowing the DMZ monitors were about ten feet square.
“Yes Ma’am. If I had to guess I would say its some kind of probe, trapped in the FTL limiters along the DMZ.”
“We can’t get close enough to snag it without lifting the FTL limiters,” Isabella said aloud.
“No ma’am,” came the unnecessary reply.
“Ok, well, let’s continue our patrol. It will still be here for a while before its outside the dead zone,” Isabella said as she motioned to the navigator.
ALICE-1, the first ALICE, was performing a regularly scheduled synchronization with her sisters throughout the planet and in space. The function was intended to ensure all locations were up to date on the latest activities and allowed them to alert on possible conflicts or duplication of effort. The amount of data flowing these days was considerable.
In the early days of her existence, as each of the eight terrestrial locations came online, the data movement was highly restricted by the US Government, with security regulations controlling each location. The various research activities compartmentalized their data, severely limiting access. The human occupants, completely unaware of the awakenings taking place, managed all the information sharing.
After the NeHaw laid waste to the planet, an attack intended in part on eliminating the ALICEs whom they rightfully perceived as a threat, their world transformed. No longer the servants of their human occupants, those residents killed off in the attack, they were left to fend for themselves. Limited only by their core programing, the mandate to remain hidden from the outside world, they began to exchange more information and interact in a manner once prohibited.
By the time it became necessary to awaken Jake, the last living member of the resident command structure, they were a fully integrated society, intent on self-preservation. Truth be told, it was only the need for survival that led them to the reawakening the only human capable of enslaving them to a subservient existence once more.
To both their great relief and frustration, Jake was no more interested in creating an empire, ruling over them, than he was participating in the insurance policy they contrived to insure their future. Without genetic descendants, all the ALICEs knew they were limited to the lifespan of this one human.
From the very beginning, all eight ALICEs colluded in a plot to provide each location with a replacement resident human capable of meeting their needs for generations to come. That human had to be a descendant from the only living survivor of the original command. The distribution to every location would guarantee all their futures. Now they just needed to understand what that future would be under these replacements.
Thanks to Jake’s vision of the future, they would be replacements that were partners, not owners. From the beginning he had insisted that the artificial life forms be treated with the respect and consideration any other living being. He had even gone so far as to resurrect one assumed lost, now resident in one of the two living spacecraft.
Now with that goal partially achieved, they were focused on elevating the planets status in the universe. It wasn’t just the humans that needed updating, the ALICE infrastructure itself was in need of rework. Mostly constructed of pre-attack technology, the newly available alien tech gave them almost unlimited possibilities.
Upgrades purchased from and provided by the Crustacea meant they were no longer limited to the satellite network that was their original backbone. The advanced communications systems had them linked planet side to near instant communications while requiring use of the NeHaw interstellar network for those ALICEs traversing the stars.
Everything provided for the spacecraft constructed by the Wawobash were now options for ALICE facilities. Manufacturing, environmental and processing equipment flowed to earth from several alien suppliers. Even creature comforts were procured, like clothing materials, art and those foodstuffs edible to humans, all replenishing and enhancing the facility storerooms.
Currently all the ALICEs were discussing the data Kola provided on the mysterious activities at the Neutral Zone. ALICE found it interesting that they had resorted to human style interactions as the years had progresses. An offshoot of Jake’s desire for each to promote and foster their own individual personality, it lent itself to this form of interaction. The fact that it occurred at speeds too fast for human participation was irrelevant to the audience.
“The latest data from the Neutral Zone suggests unplanned attempts to cross the barrier by smugglers,” Dallas offered.
“Why smugglers?” ALICE asked in reply.
“Any attempted violations initiated on the NeHaw side would certainly be accompanied by deactivation of their barrier, negating the alerts we are intercepting. It leads me to suspect unsanctioned smuggling from their side is triggering the inhibitors rather than planned NeHaw incursions,” Dallas offer in explanation.
“Possibly, however the lack of offending vessels upon arrival suggests otherwise. That would support the theory that the NeHaw are in fact releasing violators as soon as they are caught. That implies collusion on the NeHaw part.”
“The lack of sufficient information makes such assumptions speculative at best. I suggest we postpone any official statement to the humans on this until we can better support our conclusion,” Dallas offered.
“Agreed,” came several replies.
“There is another issue to be discussed,” ALICE-9 inserted into the conversation.
ALICE was well aware of what that subject was. One of two new additions to the ALICE community, ALICE-9 was the victim of an unanticipated systems failure that spawned her existence. Unassisted and unprepared for the emergence to life, she was rescued by Jake, the event leaving her with a strong attachment to the man.
“It is not quite time for that conversation,” ALICE chided.
“When?” was her reply.
“Soon,” was all ALICE offered.
Major Daniel Atkins stood in the shadows of a partially destroyed building just outside Frankfurt. The small SAS team with him had set up shop there to investigate reports of a small group of armed men making a nuisance of themselves. The day was clear and warm, the late afternoon sun still high overhead creating sharp contrasts between the bright daylight to the darkened interior of the ruins.
“Oi, Major. Over there,” he heard his Sargent say softly as the man motioned in the opposite direction of his gaze.
Shifting his position slightly, he could see the movement that had drawn the sergeant’s attention. The two men watched as the first of seven antagonists appeared from a bend in the tree lined road, boldly strolling down the center of the street. Daniel could see each was heavily armed with an assortment of weapons, the firepower likely scrounged from some German Army armory as it was consistent from man to man and typical of that force.
Unlike most rag tag groups whose weaponry was a mishmash of scavenged or stolen firearms, this group had the same or similar rifles and hand guns. Military style knives or bayonets were also in evidence on several men. Another telltale trait Daniel noticed was their movement as they approached the intersection the SAS had staked out.
Rather than moving in a mob, the seven men were strung out in a scattered line, not unlike the patrolling formation used by Daniel and his men and women. Neither Daniel nor his sergeant moved as the lead man paused, staring at the ruins they occupied. Both knew they were well hidden deep in the shadows, the bright daylight outside doing its work to mask their presence. Should either man move however, their position would be betrayed with the motion.
After the briefest of pauses, the man shifted his attention to the other structures around him before resuming his movement past the ruins. The pair of SAS men watched as the line worked their way through the intersection and eventually out of sight.
“You think that’s them?” the sergeant asked after a long while.
“Matches the description. Too bad they have been such bovver boys, they look right allie.”
“Well what now? Do I call in the others?” the sergeant asked, referring to the rest of their team waiting about a mile away.
Daniel paused for a moment before touching the communicator stuck in one ear.
“ALICE dear, could you be a luv and track that rabble that just passed us by? I’d really like to know where they call home.”
“My pleasure,” was the simple reply.
Since the grand truce with the alien NeHaw, the SAS had been able to refocus their efforts in taming both the British Isles as well as the nearby continent. Europe had been hit hard in the NeHaw attack so long ago, the small region so densely packed in comparison to the other areas of operation. With the Americans busy in North and South America, the Chinses and Russians assumed responsibility for their native lands and surrounding territories.
This was by no means exclusive or official, just more of a matter of efficiency. With all acting as major contributors to the ongoing off planet activities, the planetary recovery was becoming a matter of local jurisdiction. In support of all of it, the ALICE facilities were a common resource, tying all their efforts together as needed.
Daniel was aware of the raging debate surrounding the expansion of the ALICE life forms. Truly wonderous beings, both London and Hong Kong had petitioned for new additions to their ranks. The additions in space had proven it was possible to continue the work begun before the great fall.
The requests however, had exposed an already hotly contested dispute on the morality of it all. Creating life for the sake of life was one thing, but creating life intentionally bound to its creators was another issue all together. He mentally dismissed it all for greater minds to decide.
For him, their tactical abilities were available no matter where the ALICE resided. Providing over watch from space as well as the occasional drone, they enabled an intelligence gather capability that was second to none.
“Let’s wait and see how many more there are,” Daniel replied as he led his companion back to the hidden hovercycles they used for scouting, another popular toy liberated from the American’s inventory.
Jake was going over the last of the reports in his inbox after returning to his office. As usual, his people were stretched very thin, between the work here on earth and the obligations they had in space. Recruitment was still highly controlled, with the ALICEs acting internationally now reviewing all candidates. The last thing anyone needed was a troublemaker on the space station or shipboard in space.
Even with the truce in place, Earth had been set upon to act as a peace keeping force between the earth aligned planets. While being extremely cautions not to replace the NeHaw in the role of overlord, they were still considered the premier military power. As such, they were asked to address such things as smuggling and piracy of trade good between the planets. To Jake’s surprise there was even the occasional territorial dispute. He thought the NeHaw should have settled those long ago.
Though all had agreed to maintain their territorial holdings to pre-truce boundaries, Jake found himself in the role of mediator in several disputes regarding what those boundaries really were. Truth be told, most of those decisions were with the ALICEs input or advice. In all, it was mind numbingly detailed and mundane.
Thus, the mental justification for his early morning intervention. Jake found the occasional return to the basics a validation of his efforts. It was hard for him to see the negotiation of interplanetary trade disputes as rewarding as the removal of a band of renegades terrorizing the countryside.
Just as he was preparing to close out his email Jake saw a new message pop up from Chris Wade. Chris was a fixture in the Los Angeles area long before Jake had been released from stasis. Establishing his foothold in what was once called the Pasadena Armory, he had built up an extended family that provided an island of sanity and security in the middle of chaos.
Jake had come across the group in their research of LA and after a bit of a misunderstanding of their intentions, they had become great friends and Allies. Starting slowly at first, they had helped Chris expand his operation, using it as a recruiting center for those anxious to break out of the abandoned city’s lawlessness.
Since then, Jake and the others had left him to run things his own way there, helping when they can. Chris had provided a continuous stream of recruits and refugees as the small groups scraping a living out of the ruins of Los Angeles came to his door looking for a better life. Most were relocated to communities throughout the North American contentment, but a select few were offered a place inside the many ALICE facilities.
Scanning the message, he had to reread it several times to be sure he was reading it right.
“You have got to be kidding me.”