Chapter Three: Phil's Fear

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*******Meeting Log*******

Time: Journey day 631, 14:30

Location: Landed on moon of Alerzion.

Present:

J. Wonder-Captain

M. Wienburger-Hyposleep and Morale Specialist

E. Leonard-General Science Officer

R. Rudolph-Planetary Ecologist and Landsat image analyst

G. Bradshaw-Communications Analyst and Probe pilot

M. Lowe-Probe pilot and Planetary Wilderness Survival Specialist

A. Drechal-Robotics Manufacture Specialist and Computer Science Officer

P. Rollins-Chaplain and Xenopsychologist

J. Greenberg-Xenozoologist

Recorded by OmniFunktion III 06.16.18.94, Ship’s Computer

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The meeting had been called for 14:30 in the rec room. By 14:45, everyone was settled in, and no one seemed too concerned about the time. Earl chaired the meeting.

“Ladies, gentlemen, and creations ... you are with us, aren’t you, Omni?”

“Yes, Earl.”

“We are here to discuss yesterday’s events. I move we suspend the rules; dispense with reading the minutes and old business; and move directly to this new business.

“All in favor?”

There were bored mutters about the room.

“Opposed?”

Silence

“The motion passes. Omni, please note that.”

“Yes, Earl.”

“Now, our situation is as follows:

“Two of our three probes have been disabled, and are apparently irretrievable. We don’t know what disabled them, but it’s probably intelligent, since it has arranged to send back sophisticated dummy transmissions in place of the real probes’ transmissions.

“After many months of surveillance, the orbiting scout satellites have reported no movement between the planet’s surface and space. But there are signs of an active civilization.

“From what we’ve seen monitoring their video and radio transmissions, that civilization seems to be dominated by machines. All we’ve seen on the videos are robots of various sizes and shapes. We haven’t seen a thing of their masters.

“After studying readouts on the planet’s surface, Ruth Rudolph has determined that, among other things, much of the planet’s surface is lightly cratered. And that the craters are uniform enough in size and distribution to likely be manmade (or, in the case of this world, robot-made). And that they are likely to be the result of a planet-wide conflict.

“Do we have any recommendations or other comments at this time?”

Phil Rollins spoke up immediately. “It’s time we leave and send in a military ship. The intelligent life here may possess nuclear capabilities, and it could possibly hurt us if we are detected.”

Now Phil’s a funny fellow. We roomed together at school. He’s blond, bronzed, and muscular. He was good at his studies, too. Brains and looks. Wow! There was scarcely a woman whose head he didn’t turn.

But he worked hard at attaining both looks and brainpower, and he prizes his work. As a result, he never takes a risk. He told me that’s why he’d never get married.

Now, here he is: An ET expert, floating in space, but still risk-averse. One of these days, I’ve got to corner him and get the rest of his story.

After a moment, Adrienne answered him. “I think that’s a bit hasty, Phil. We’re not threatened yet, and we, not the military, were sent here to do the exploring.”

“Well, mark my words, there’s more trouble pending. We need to take precautions.”

Phil stared each of us in the eye, but said no more. Earl finally broke the silence.

“Do we have other suggestions?”

Ruth offered, “We could land the last probe next to a working city and attempt contact. The intelligent life here may be friendly.”

“Interesting, but I think you’re being as wildly optimistic as Phil is pessimistic. What else do we have? Let’s go around the room.”

Gary was first. “We can establish a base here on the moon and continue remote monitoring.”

Mark was next. “We can send an armed, manned party to attempt retrieval of the two landed probes.”

Adrienne. “Design new tamper-proof probes before continuing proximate monitoring.”

My turn. “We can land probes in one or more of the hostile climates--desert, ocean, or polar--where there’s no visible vegetation or animal life. We’ll see if the same thing happens.”

Mary sat next to me. She thought a while. “We’re on the verge of something big. But only if we survive it. I’ve got nothing new to offer. But let’s be damn cautious about what we attempt. I don’t want to be known throughout the ages as Mary What’s-her-name, lost in space.”

“Hear, hear!” added Phil.

This brought us to the captain, Jessie Wonder. She too paused thoughtfully before starting. “You’ve all made good points. We’re on the verge of something big, and we wouldn’t be here if we weren’t willing to take a lot of risk. But let’s not take more than we have to.

“Earl, this is what I propose. Let’s go with Gary, Adrienne, and John’s suggestions-build a base here, build more probes that are tamper-proof, and monitor the planet from this moon. But instead of sending the last probe down, let’s put it in orbit instead.”

“That sounds like a good compromise. Do I hear any objections?”

“Yes!”

“Phil? Continue.”

“Not until someone here has left the room.”

“Who?”

“Omni.”

“Omni, the computer, our secretary?”

“Yes. Omni, the computer.”

“Very well. Omni, if you don’t mind, I’ll shut your reception off for a few minutes.”

“That’s fine. I understand.”

Earl clicked off the console. “This better be good, Phil. I’m sure you realize that we’re light years away from the nearest friendly planet. If Omni decides to get as flaky as you are being, we’re in deep bananas.”

“That’s exactly why I don’t want it listening. Think about this, Earl, and you others. This civilization below, the one on Alerzion. What is it composed of?”

“What do you mean, ‘What is it composed of’?”

“It’s all computers and robots! We haven’t seen a sign of anything else! And who has been listening to those computers and robots for the last five years? Our own computer, Omni!”

“Yes, that’s right. So what?”

“Well, suppose they knew we were out here? Suppose they knew we were listening? This is a high tech civilization of robots. They know about robots! All about them! Compared to them, we’re babes in the woods!

“Isn’t it possible ... just possible ... that they knew we were out here, listening? And if they knew, isn’t it possible ... just possible ... that they could control the data Omni received?

“Isn’t it possible that the data Omni’s been getting is as bogus as the data our probes are giving us-but for a different purpose. A much more deadly purpose?” Phil paused.

He had us on the edge of our seats ... at least some of us. Adrienne yawned.

The pause lengthened. Finally Earl rose to the occasion.

“To what purpose, Phil?”

Phil looked carefully around, then whispered to us conspiratorially, “To take over Omni.”

“What?” It was Adrienne. She’d stopped yawning.

“Shh. To take over Omni. The computers down there are feeding just selected data to Omni. They’re reprogramming it.”

“What!”

“Quiet, I said! Slowly, little by little, they’re corrupting and controlling our computer by carefully controlling what data it monitors. How else can you explain all those monotonous transmissions!”

“Oh Jesus, Phil!” complained Adrienne. “What have you been smoking? Have you been warming your frontal lobes in the microwave again? Are you a computer expert now? That’s the most harebrained thing I’ve heard this year. This isn’t worthy of comment.”

“Oh yeah? I suppose you know everything there is to know about those machines on the planet below. Tell me you do! Tell me there’s nothing they can do that would surprise you! Go ahead and tell me!”

Adrienne was true to her word. She said nothing.

Finally, she said, “Earl, I think this discussion has gone on long enough. Turn Omni back on, and let’s finish this meeting.”

Earl looked around. The captain nodded, and he did so. The captain spoke next.

“Omni, please note that we’ve decided to pursue our plans as outlined just before you left.”

“Yes, Jessie.”

“With that, I declare this meeting adjourned.”