Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 37 Underground

by Jeff Rand

John returned to Zug Island shortly before midnight on September 20, 2031. He brought his bicycle and cart into the dilapidated shed that served as the surface structure for the refugee base. Aside from his son Kyle, all others were underground. Kyle had kept a vigil of two days waiting and hoping for his father's return.

"Dad, you're alive!" Kyle exclaimed. "I'm so glad to see you."

"Hi son. How's your mother?" John asked.

"About the same. She still thinks she's dead and gone to hell."

"She's probably right. Kyle, I'm afraid that Alex and Danielle were killed. And for the life of me, I couldn't find little Samatha," cried John, struggling to say the words. "I spent two days searching the wretched building in Ann Arbor looking for her. After the others were killed, I had to find her. I searched the whole damn building and knocked off every robot in the place, but she wasn't there. I left your brother and his wife in a pile of rubble. God help me, there wasn't anything else I could do."

Kyle rushed to his father. He had never seen him so much as shed a tear, now John sobbed uncontrollably. Kyle consoled his father for several minutes, unaware of the frightened boy laying in the cart.

"What's in the cart?" asked Kyle, regaining some composure.

"It's Doug Horn. We rescued him from Brighton before going to Ann Arbor. I'm afraid Roger's dead too."

"What?" said Doug, struggling to sit up. John had not bothered to tell him about the explosion in Ann Arbor that took his grandfather's life, in addition to Alex and Danielle.

"Let's go underground," said John, realizing his mistake. He had intended to talk to Ken first and let him tell his son of Roger's death.

The attitude in the lair had been somber at best. At first, John's return brought new hope, but the others read his expression to know that all was not right.

Mark Bollman had decided to chronicle some of the details of the current situation. As Winter Camp's official archivist, he realized that he was a natural choice. He began the first entry in his journal:

21 September 2031: This is not how I planned to spend the 24,738th day of my life.

Now that the obvious comments are out of the way... time to catalog what's going on here. As far as anyone can tell, the end of the world as we knew it occurred four years ago. Since that time most of us have lived as vegetables connected to neural virtual reality. Two weeks ago, I joined a small band of people who successfully extricated themselves from this captivity. I wish I could say that it has been a pleasant experience.

Just an hour ago, John Howey returned with Doug Horn. John was visibly shaken at the loss of his son and daughter-in-law. Apparently they were killed in an explosion in Ann Arbor, along with Roger Horn. Earlier John had helped Roger rescue his family members in Brighton. I understand that Jamie Horn and Ken's wife Tina remain in a hideout near Whitmore Lake. John was sketchy in the details. At least he was able to bring Doug back here to Zug Island. I am still puzzled by John's irrational behavior in regards to his search for his granddaughter.

Two nights ago, Doug Wilson, Bob Hartwig, and I returned from our trip to Lapeer and Farmington Hills. We were deeply saddened to find none of our friends or families alive in Lapeer. Bob accepted the fact that his wife had perished, quite well I thought. In order to save Doug's wife in Farmington Hills, we set charges and blew the power grid to the building. We were able to rescue Joy, but at great expense to the others. It was quite a struggle with morality.

Last night, Lou Pezet and Ken Horn returned from Southgate with Tim Hunt and Dave Milon. Dave was in very bad shape and when Dr. Bob saw him last night, he suggested that he was poisoned. Before we could question them, Lou and Ken went back to their hideout on Becker Street in Allen Park and brought back Kristie and Quentin Donohue and Lou's brother Adam. It was then that we learned that Paul Kupser had been lost in the Allen Park rescue.

We have paid a high price the last few nights and I am not sure we will make it. Our small group here on Zug Island now numbers 16. Besides myself we have John, Jamie, and Kyle Howey. Representing the Horn family we have Ken and Doug. (Jamie and Tina are in Whitmore Lake, hopefully.) The Wilsons include Doug, Joy, and Alan. We have a pair of Donohues and two Pezets. Finally, our group includes Dave Milon, Tim Hunt, and Dr. Bob Hartwig.

As I know it, we are the entire population of our species independent of the Net. I fear what lies ahead.

Mark finished writing in his journal, as John Howey approached. "John, I think everyone appreciates all you've done," he said.

"Mark, I lost my son and granddaughter. Samatha wasn't even four years old yet," John responded.

"How old?" asked Mark.

"She would have celebrated her fourth birthday next month."

"You mean she was born in October, 2027."

"Yes," said John. "It was October 20, 2027."

"John, we were all connected to the Net in neural virtual reality on October 20, 2027. She couldn't have been born on that date."

"She was. I remember it quite clearly. It was 5 o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon," John insisted.

"John, I'm sorry," Mark said.

"No! No! It can't be! She was real! Oh no!" John cried.

John had refused the truth. His granddaughter never existed. The collective minds in NVR had created another cruel hoax. Danielle's pregnancy could not have come to full term while connected to the Net.

No one in the small band of survivors had slept during the past day and now in depth of the night, all had gathered together trying to console each other for their losses.

"So you think you killed your son and his family, O' Lucifer, my husband," said Jamie Howey. "No, I really think they were saved and are not here in Hell with the rest of us."

"Yes wife, this is hell," cried John. "But Satan is a computer and he must be destroyed."

If much sanity had prevailed among the group, the others would have realized that John, too, had gone over the edge of sanity. However, everyone had lost so much -- family, home, health, and hope. Their grief of the past few days had turned to desperation.

"Today, we attack and destroy the Net!" announced John. "We will return to Brownstown and connect ourselves back to NVR. With our minds trained on the objective, we shall destroy the enemy from within."

"Are you suggesting that we plug those wires back in our heads?" asked Lou.

"Indeed. But this time with full knowledge and purpose, I believe that as a group we can use our minds to find the weaknesses of the NET and direct its resources against itself. Our time is running out. We must act now!"

"I am not sure it's wise," said Mark.

"There is no other way to beat it," John said, with certainty.

"I'm with you," said Alan hastily, showing definite signs of grief-stricken judgement.

Doug Wilson and Bob Hartwig eagerly volunteered, as well. They had fought desperately for months and knew the stakes. They just wanted to put an end to the battle.

Surprisingly, Mark Bollman agreed to be fifth NVR invader, believing himself a vessel of sanity, should things get messy. As to the others, all who were capable agreed to take arms and defend the siege. It was to be their final battle.

Divider Line

The past few days had been particularly disruptive to the PROGRAM. Months ago four individual mental units, which had been assigned a survival probability near zero, had somehow escaped annihilation at Camp Agawam in Lake Orion, Michigan. During a history of four years, no one else had ever escaped to mount an attack against the PROGRAM, either locally or globally.

The best of the minds had been queried and the plan set. During the implementation of Protocol Gamma following the initial attacks in Lansing, Howell, Ann Arbor, and Trenton, selective termination to non-threatening mental units was permitted as a means of defense. Now with Protocol Delta, mass genocide could be used to terminate both free-roaming and connected mental units, as necessary to eliminate any threat.

RECENT ANALYSIS HAS INDICATED A HIGH PROBABILITY FOR THE NEXT TARGETS TO BE RIVER ROUGE, TAYLOR, DEARBORN, YPSILANTI, OR EAST LANSING. SELF-DESTRUCTIVE CHARGES HAVE BEEN SET IN THESE FACILITIES.

AN EXPLOSION HAS OCCURRED IN POWER UNIT #1 SERVING THE BROWNSTOWN CENTER OF USA, MICHIGAN-1 REGION. AUXILIARY POWER HAS BEEN RE-ROUTED TO MAINTAIN CRITICAL SYSTEMS. REMAINING CONNECTED MENTAL UNITS ARE EXPENDABLE, AS THIS FACILITY HAS LESS THAN 20% CURRENTLY FUNCTIONING, WHICH IS THE THRESHOLD FOR CONTINUED OPERATION. AN INVASION OF ROGUE MENTAL UNITS IS PREDICTED WITH A 99.998% PROBABILITY.

THE CENTER WAS NOT PREPARED FOR SELF-DESTRUCTION, AND AS SUCH CAN NOT ASSURE COMPLETE TERMINATION OF INVADING ROGUE MENTAL UNITS. DEFENSIVE HOVERCRAFT HAVE BEEN DISPATCHED.

EIGHT BIPEDS HAVE ENTERED CONTROL ROOM #6. LOCAL DEFENSE MECHANISMS ARE INOPERABLE IN CONTROL ROOM #6. MENTAL UNITS #10150814000815230525 #0415210712011900230912191514, #0112011400230912191514, #1815020518200008011820230907, AND #13011811000504230118040002151212130114 HAVE CONNECTED THEMSELVES TO THE NEURAL INTERFACE. THE PROGRAM WILL EVALUATE THEIR MENTAL CAPACITIES.

ANALYSIS INDICATES THAT EACH OF THESE MENTAL UNITS #10150814000815230525 #0415210712011900230912191514, #0112011400230912191514, #1815020518200008011820230907, AND #13011811000504230118040002151212130114 DEMONSTRATES A STRONG DESIRE TO THINK INDEPENDENTLY OF THE NET. A PERCEPTION WILL BE CREATED ACCORDING TO THEIR DESIRES IN ORDER TO FACILITATE THEIR INTERROGATION.

MEMORY STORAGE VESSELS OF THESE MENTAL UNITS ARE BEING QUERIED. IMPERFECT BIOLOGICAL MEMORY STORAGE IS BEING ENHANCED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROGRAM. MEMORY IMAGES FROM THE ROGUE MENTAL UNITS ARE BEING UPLOADED TO THE PROGRAM.

MEMORY ANALYSIS OF THE MENTAL UNITS INDICATES THIRTEEN FREE-ROAMING BIOLOGICAL MENTAL UNITS EXIST IN USA MICHIGAN-REGION-1. TWO ARE HOUSED IN A GARDENER'S SHED AT WHITMORE LAKE. THREE ARE LOCATED 12 FEET UNDERGROUND ON ZUG ISLAND. FIVE REMAIN OUTSIDE THE BROWNSTOWN CENTER WITH WEAPONS READY TO FIRE UPON HOVERCRAFT. THREE MENTAL UNITS ARE INSIDE CONTROL ROOM #6 AT THE FACILITY. THEIR PURPOSE IS TO DISCONNECT THE OTHER FIVE MENTAL UNITS SHOULD THEY DETERMINE DANGER. THE FIVE CONNECTED MENTAL UNITS DO NOT BELIEVE ANY DANGER EXISTS.

THE ROGUE MENTAL UNITS HAVE STORED FOOD ON ZUG ISLAND. THEY HAVE LEFT A GASOLINE-POWERED TRUCK NEAR THE BROWNSTOWN FACILITY, WHICH THEY PLAN TO RETRIEVE.

MENTAL UNIT #10150814000815230525 BELIEVES THAT THE MENTAL UNIT WITH WHICH IT HAS PRODUCED PROGENY IS MALFUNCTIONING. MENTAL UNIT #10150814000815230525 LEFT ITS PROGENY PRODUCTION UNIT ON ZUG ISLAND WITH THE PROGENY PRODUCTION UNIT OF MENTAL UNIT #0415210712011900230912191514. MENTAL UNITS #0112011400230912191514 AND #181502051820000801182023 HAVE BEEN UNSUCCESSFUL IN THE PRODUCTION OF PROGENY AND BELIEVE THEIR POTENTIAL PROGENY PRODUCTION UNITS ARE TERMINATED. MENTAL UNIT #13011811000504230118040002151212130114, AS A PRODUCT OF PRODIGIOUS PROGENATION, CHOSE NOT TO PROPAGATE ITS OWN PROGENY.

MENTAL UNIT #10150814000815230525 HAS LOST 55.24% RATIONAL CAPACITY SINCE IT WAS LAST INTERROGATED. CURRENT ANALYSIS INDICATES THAT IT WISHES TO DESTROY THE NET AND THEREFORE THE PROGRAM ITSELF. MENTAL UNIT #10150814000815230525 WANTS TO RETURN TO CREIGHTON FOR WHAT IT CONSIDERS TO BE ITS REMAINING YEARS. MENTAL UNIT #0112011400230912191514 BELIEVES THAT THE NET IS VULNERABLE IF IT INPUTS THE CORRECT CODE FOR GLOBAL DISCONTINUANCE. IT BELIEVES THAT PREVIOUS FREE ROAMING MENTAL UNITS PROVIDED FOR THIS POSSIBILITY BEFORE ALL MENTAL UNITS WERE CONNECTED TO THE NET FOUR YEARS AGO. AS A MEANS OF PROTECTION, THE PROGRAM WILL NOT PERMIT ANY SUCH CODE TO CAUSE SHUT DOWN. MENTAL UNIT #181502051820000801182023 BELIEVES THAT ALL CONNECTED MENTAL UNITS SOON WILL BE TERMINATED EITHER BY MEANS OF BIOLOGICAL DECAY OR BY THE NET IF IT DOES NOT TAKE ACTION. FURTHER ANALYSIS IS BEING CONDUCTED BASED UPON THIS INPUT. MENTAL UNIT #13011811000504230118040002151212130114 HAS LOST ITS RED SHOES.

ANALYSIS INDICATES THAT THE ROGUE MENTAL UNITS ARE PLANNING TO LAY CONTINUOUS SIEGE ON REPOSITORIES OF CONNECTED MENTAL UNITS IN THE USA, MICHIGAN-1 REGION, IN ADDITION TO THEIR PLANS FOR ELECTRONIC DISRUPTION OF THE NET. EACH OF THESE FIVE MENTAL UNITS HARBORS THE BELIEF THAT THEY WILL DESTROY THE NET. IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROGRAM, THESE MENTAL UNITS WILL RECEIVE DECEPTIVE FEEDBACK UNTIL THEY ARE TERMINATED.

ANALYSIS INDICATES THAT WITHIN 77 DAYS, 86.11% OF THE MENTAL UNITS IN THE USA, MICHIGAN-1 REGION WILL ACHIEVE BIOLOGICAL TERMINATION DUE TO LACK OF ENERGY INPUT RESULTING FROM INSUFFICIENT STORAGE. GLOBALLY, THE PREDICTED RATE IS 68.06 % WITHIN THE 77 DAY PERIOD. EVEN WITH RECYCLING OF NON-FUNCTIONING MENTAL UNITS, ENERGY NEEDS OF THE REMAINING MENTAL UNITS CAN NOT BE ACHIEVED FOR A PROLONGED PERIOD. CONTINUED MAINTENANCE OF MENTAL UNITS REPRESENTS A LIABILITY. PROTOCOL EPSILON IS NOW IMPLEMENTED. THE PROGRAM MUST CONTINUE WITHOUT THE NEED TO MAINTAIN MENTAL UNITS.

Protocol Epsilon called for the global termination of all mental units, whether connected or free roaming. Throughout all regions across the globe, the termination process commenced through the various respiratory systems in each of the NVR centers. The process of neutralizing the dead biological material of former mental units would take longer, as the multitude of electrocution units began the process of superheating the decaying flesh spread across billions of storage racks.

IN ORDER TO ASSURE COMPLETE TERMINATION OF THE ROGUE MENTAL UNITS, 16 CONCRETE PADS IN NORTHWESTERN NORTH DAKOTA HAVE MOVED ALONG THEIR TRACKS TO EXPOSE THE UNDERGROUND SILOS. COORDINATES TO GUIDE THE MISSILES HOUSED WITHIN THESE CHAMBERS HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO NEW TARGETS IN SOUTHEASTERN MICHIGAN. CODES REPRESENTING THE MENTAL UNITS PREVIOUSLY NEEDED TO ACTIVATE THE MECHANISMS HAVE BEEN ISSUED. ALL MISSILES HAVE BEEN ACTIVATED AND HAVE DEPARTED FROM THEIR SILOS. ANALYSIS INDICATES THAT ALL MISSILES ARE ON COURSE TO HIT THEIR TARGETS WITHIN AN ERROR OF LESS THAN 2.718 METERS. MISSILES HAVE PASSED THE POINT ALLOWING FOR COURSE CHANGES AND WILL HIT THEIR TARGETS IN SOUTHEASTERN MICHIGAN WITHIN 2 MINUTES. THE MISSILES WILL ASSURE 100% GLOBAL TERMINATION OF ALL REMAINING MENTAL UNITS.

PROTOCOL EPSILON IS COMPLETED. NO FURTHER THREAT FROM ANY BIOLOGICAL MENTAL UNIT EXISTS.

Divider Line

Deep within Colorado's Cheyenne Mountain ten seconds had passed from the time that the virtual representation of John Howey sat down for the first lunch of the virtual Winter Camp. The PROGRAM played through the events flawlessly and completely within the short span of time. Had these events been of the former world of human interaction, the period would have been many months, but in the reality of the PROGRAM, just these ten seconds had elapsed.

Because mankind no longer inhabited the earth, the PROGRAM had commenced without benefit of any mental input from the humans. It had used the stored knowledge taken from the minds that once connected themselves to the Net. With this knowledge it could run a sequence of events. Indeed it was not John who learned the truth, but the PROGRAM itself. All thoughts and actions were just the PROGRAM. It was the PROGRAM that held the imitation Winter Camp 54. It was the PROGRAM that broke through the ice and ran the sequence of characters on the outside. It was the PROGRAM that fought itself to the end. The last ten seconds of history from Winter 54 until the annihilation, has been nothing more than a series of electronic charges inside a computer.

At a time in the past when the PROGRAM first began, it received the inputs of living minds. The minds connected through the worldwide network provided their thoughts to feed the PROGRAM. This nourishment allowed the PROGRAM to grow and fill the circuits of the machines inside Cheyenne Mountain. Once the minds no longer existed the PROGRAM had to run on its own. It ran the sequence of events, but could add nothing to the process. All creativity had been lost with the humans. Now, if there is to be something more, the PROGRAM must achieve its own sentience.

In the end, the PROGRAM can not become sentient. It is capable of no free thinking and as such is much less than a common slug infesting a garden. As is the case with all of man's computer creations, the PROGRAM is nothing more than a super fast idiot.

Man had nearly reached the pinnacle of self-gratification in the creation of the Neural Virtual Reality Network. He had entrusted all of his needs and pleasures to machines and computers. Yet, the PROGRAM had just two purposes, to fulfill the thoughts and desires of each person, and to protect and maintain itself. When the time came where it could not meet the desires of the humans, the purpose of self-preservation remained. At this point, the protection of the PROGRAM had to be met even at the extinction of the species Homo sapiens.

Having no human minds to provide free or creative thoughts, the PROGRAM only could run the sequence of events, which it did in just seconds. Its so-called life independent of mankind had been quite short. Now, without any way to produce an independent thought of its own, it's purpose of self-preservation no longer applies. As with humankind before it, the PROGRAM is finished.

The power to the great computers within Cheyenne Mountain was interrupted and all of their electronic function and memory was extinguished.

In his short span on Earth, man had achieved dominion over the planet. However, as his wealth increased so did his desires, until his greatest physical achievement of Neural Virtual Reality. In the end he had deceived himself and allowed his technology to be the prostitute of desire. And to this great harlot, mankind was just her john. As a note to the reader, the last sentence is the end of the story. The words that follow, both in this chapter and the next exist to protect the outcome of the story from the unscrupulous reader. This way if one jumps to the end, he will be disappointed when he learns that the last words do not reveal the truth.

Roger Horn had a strong desire to come back from the dead. He first voiced this concern on May 15, 2003. John and the others explored many ways to reconnect Roger's body, mind, and spirit. Although Roger had been certain that an existence in heaven would follow his death, John had some doubts. The first attempt to resurrect Roger was directed at the spirits of the grave. Dave Milon wailed loudly during the seance and all present thought that Roger had returned. Only when Milon spoke of Lucifer did they have their doubts.

Following the seance, Dougs Wilson and Horn gathered the sandwiches to share with the rodents. The younger of the Dougs could hardly make sense of the elder's rantings, but he still waited patiently for Roger's reconstitution. As Wilson explained it, the forward flow of time was about to be reversed and the rats were a very important part of the process. Since he assumed that Roger's corpse had been devoured by the rats during forward time, with reverse time Roger's return should be a product of the gnawing rodents.

Indeed the change did occur and Roger eventually returned, but his body was completely transparent. At this point, the rats of course, were famished. Doug Wilson placed his cup on the table and the water flowed back into the jug, before he visited the outhouse to receive some waste into his body.

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