Technology

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Technology

Postby Miki Yamuri » Thu Mar 05, 2015 9:31 pm

Title: Technology

All Characters played by: LilJennie and Miki Yamuri

Characters:

David Bollinger - 30 yo Archeologist
Christopher Vaughn - 25 yo Archeology Student
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David Bollinger and his graduate student, Christopher Vaughn, had finally managed to get a grant large enough to fund their expedition and research into a lost location described in a stone tablet recovered from the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Crete.

The two of them had discovered and reassembled the tablet fragments, which contained the largest yet examples of a script that had previously been known mostly from the Phaistos Disk.  Its discovery had made possible the partial decipherment of the writings, which had been a complete mystery until then.
 
The ancient history community had been electrified by this discovery, then by the secondary discovery that the text bore a strong resemblance to a passage that had been attributed to the ancient Greek poet Pindar, suggesting that he had preserved it rather than written it.  The similarity had led to the complete decipherment of the script, and more than that, it showed that the tablets were the nearly complete description of the location of the legendary Hyperborea, the land to the north of the North Wind, where the sun rose and set only once per year.
 
Ancient Greek poets such as Homer and Hesiod were said to have described the Hyperboreans as people who lived for a thousand years and enjoyed lives of complete happiness, ruled by a line of kings who were over three meters tall and were said to be the children of the gods.

Most scholars had guessed that the land of Hyperborea was somewhere north of the Arctic Circle, if the sun only rose and set once a year there.  However, David and Christopher had put together other evidence that contradicted this: if it were a real place, why did several ancient writers say that it was in Greece, near the Black Sea, in central Europe, or in England?  How could the legendary Argonauts have sighted Hyperborea as they sailed up the river Eridanus, wherever that was?
 
This tablet had told them everything: Hyperborea was beyond the Riphean Mountains, according to many accounts -- the question was where those mountains were, since nobody called any modern mountain range by that name anymore.  This tablet had seemed to have answered that question as well, making it quite clear that the Riphean Mountains of legend and the Southern Ural Mountains were one and the same.
 
From there, it hadn’t been hard to deduce the rest of the location -- the Ural Mountains were vast, but their description in the text made it clear that the Greeks had known only a small portion of them, and there was only one one place where three rivers met just past the southern Urals: nowadays it had been dammed and was a reservoir called Iriklinskoye Vodokhranilishche by the Russians who lived there, and they told very old legends about a mysterious land of magicians and wizards that had once lived in the hills.
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David knelt beside an embankment with his small, soft whisk brush, and gently brushed many layers of debris from an interesting surface in the side of the embankment. Within the rock face, he had discovered the same strange squiggles and swirls he had deciphered from the tablets. As he continued to clean the chiseled letters from this forgotten language with his small brush, Christopher had begun to poke around in the many scrub type bushes that grew along the cliff face. Christopher decided to lean against the face of the cliff, so he could stabilize himself better. His hand passed right through the clinging foliage and he almost stumbles into a hidden opening.

David saw Christopher almost fall and shouted, “Are you all right? Need help or something?”

Christopher stood up and dusted his hands off awkwardly.  “I meant to do that … I mean, there seems to be some kind of an opening down here.  Let me see …”  He knelt down and got a closer look.  “It’s just a small depression between the rocks, but … I’m not sure, its edges look very smooth.”

“Let me see,” said David, coming nearer.  “Well the edges look smooth there, but not over here … though it could be broken …”

“It looks like an archway,” Christopher said, “or it would, if it weren’t completely blocked with dirt and rocks, and if it weren’t so low that only children or small animals could walk through it.”

“Wait,” David said, stepping back, “you’re right.  It’s a lot like the top of an archway.  Meaning the rest of it could be buried.”

“Measure it and see?” suggested Christopher.  At David’s assent he started taking photos and ruler measurements.  Pretty soon he discovered something.  “Look at this -- the center of it is below the ground, but if we assume these irregularities here and here are due to breakage over time, the rest of it forms a perfect circular arc.”

“I think we’ve found a good place to start taking radar readings,” David said.  “Let’s get the equipment out of the truck.”

After manhandling the heavy equipment to the cliff face, they set it up and began to take soundings. On the computer screen, the extrapolation of the rebounding signal showed a major archway entrance to a tunnel. It proceeded in for about 100 yards. The image cleared a bit when Christopher relocated the LNB in a more direct inclination.
The image cleared, and the men saw a blockage far within. David took out his sketch pad and started making drawings. When he was done he handed it to Christopher.

David asked, “Does this arch … seem familiar some how? I mean the work, the way the tunnel is. I bet, after we start excavating, we're gonna find carvings and reliefs in the opening.”

Christopher went back to the truck and removed a specialized Satellite linked laptop and opened its top. He started searching through the University’s database on architectural features found at archeological sites throughout the world. To his major surprise, he found a Ziggurat in the middle east that had recently been found, incorporating archways that had almost the exact same proportions and construction. It too had its entrance plugged by what appeared to be major and catastrophic submersion in deep water.

“Interesting,” said David when Christopher showed him this finding.  “But more interesting is the fact that the archways in that ziggurat don’t really fit with the rest of the building -- as if the Babylonians there built it on top of an earlier site.”

“And the fact that both were inundated and filled with debris by water?” Christopher wondered.

“Floods happen,” David said.  “Hypotheses based on legends exist that say that the entire world, or at least parts of Asia and the Middle East, were all flooded at the same time, but the archeological evidence doesn’t bear it out.  Every region, though, has had its legendary mega-flood at some point in the distant past, inspiring stories that are told down through the generations.”

“If this valley was flooded at one time, up to this level,” said Christopher, “that’s quite a flood.  I mean, the dam downstream that turned the valley into a reservoir didn’t even raise the water level this high -- or we wouldn’t be here.  Do you suppose the glaciers --”

“Hard to say,” David said.  “The glaciers started to recede about 10,000 BCE.  The runoff from those certainly flooded lots of territory -- and that’s one hypothesis for when it happened.  If we take some samples, from deep within the debris, we can send them in to be dated.  Then we can see whether that hypothesis has any support.”

“You’re a stickler for the scientific method,” said Christopher.  “And that’s good.  You’re respected for that.  I’m going to try to do the same.”

“Good for you,” David said with a smile.  “Now, it looks like there was some kind of hallway, tunnel, or hallway that became a tunnel, beyond that archway at one point.  It’s mostly full of debris for about 10 meters, then it’s actually clear for another 40, but then it’s blocked again.  After that … we’ll have to move the equipment again and take more readings to see.  But maybe we’ll find a good place to start excavating.”

“You think we might actually find an open chamber?” Christopher asked.  “That is, instead of sifting artifacts out of the dirt.”

“Since part of that hallway is still somehow clear, it’s not impossible,” David replied.  “Let’s find out.”

The radar suggested a point further along where they could dig a tunnel into what appeared to be a larger chamber without having to clear the entire tunnel, but still the task was long and laborious as the two men dug through earth that had been covering this site for millennia. They stopped now and then to check for artifacts, but just as the radar had suggested, there were none.  No one had lived here after whatever had happened to the site.

Finally they hit an opening and carefully widened it enough to tell there were in fact many of the squiggly wiggly and squirmy text carved into the rock along with many pictographs almost but not quite like hieroglyphs and Hieratic from Protodynastic times. By the time they had managed to make the opening large enough that they could walk into it without ducking; they also discovered many carvings and broken pottery and statues littering the way.

They moved to the obstruction, their lights dancing across the many depictions carved all around the tunnel. David spotted a small … sort of cartouche looking carving that contained reliefs that looked exactly like some kind of modern flying aircraft. One even appeared to be a missile in flight.

David said quietly, “Christopher. Come take a look at this.”

Chris came over and shined his bright light on the sort of cartouche. His eyes got to be real big as his mouth fell open in surprise.

Christopher said with conviction, “This has to be a fake of some kind.” He brushes the location gently with his soft whisk brush, “Those are depictions of … some kind of modern aircraft.”

David moved his light a small distance to the left. What came into view was a wall mural of a huge, what appeared to be, domed city with several flying vehicles floating around.

David said in astonishment, “If this is a fake, someone spent more money than the national debt to make it happen.”

“What do we … how do we handle this?” asked Christopher.

“We document it,” said David.  “We document the hell out of it.  If there are any holes in what we present, we’ll both be laughingstocks, and our careers will be over.”

“OK, then, I’ll start taking pictures and doing some rubbings of the carvings,” Christopher said.

“Good.  I’ll start cataloging objects,” said David.

The resulting work was painstaking and tiring, but at least it wasn’t as strenuous as digging the tunnel had been.  They laid out a carefully-measured grid of strings across the floor and photographed everything bigger than a pebble.  They documented the site more carefully than investigators at a crime scene.

This was why it took two days for them to decide the time was right to open the chest.  They’d called it “the chest” because it was the only thing there that looked like a box, although it was 5 meters wide and embedded into a wall.  There was so much else to do that they had to wait until they got to the right point in their investigation.

“Well, here goes,” said David.  “Time to open it up.  I’ll get this end, and you try to lift that end.”  The lid looked like it was one solid piece of some sort of metal.

“OK, let me get a good grip on it,” Christopher said.  “Do you feel … a chill in here at all?”

“You feel that too?” David asked.  “I was going to write it off as a draft or something.”
“I just … I don’t know, I feel like it’s suddenly very cold.”

“That’s odd,” said David.  “I’m feeling exactly the opposite.  I haven’t even started lifting this thing, and I’m already sweating.”

“Well, let’s see what’s inside.”

“I’m with you there.  On 3 … 1, 2, 3!”   They both lifted the heavy metal lid off the container and carefully set it down, as it was decorated with more of the symbols, and inside they found a curious sight -- rows and rows of hundreds of disk-shaped objects that glittered when they shone their flashlights on them.  Each was about the size and shape of a hockey puck, and it was difficult to say what sort of material they were made of -- some sort of crystal, perhaps.

Wearing gloves, David tried to lift one of the objects out of the box, found it slightly difficult, and moved to another, not wanting to harm it.  Finally he found one that was fairly loose and held it up to the light.  The disk reflected and refracted the beam of his flashlight into rainbow spectra all over the room’s walls.

Christopher looked around at the many colored rainbow lights that danced around the chamber. He said with wonder obvious in his voice, “I recognize this … those are some kind of crystalline holo storage things.”

David looked at Chris with incredulity on his face, “These seem to be not thousands of years old …”

Christopher added, “Millions?”

David looked at the preliminary readings offered by their advanced field equipment. It was reading more in the tune of 2.4 billion years. Long enough ago that dinosaurs were not even prevalent yet. There was, of course, an error factor of plus or minus around a million or so years …. but still, time had passed many times over before they stumbled onto this chamber.

David commented, “I must find a way to see what data might be stored on these. There’s no telling what might be there.”

“If they are some kind of … ancient CDs,” said Christopher as he measured and photographed some of the crystalline discs, “I think I know someone who can figure out how to read them.”

“I’m sure Marcia Peretzky in Linguistics would be able to read them,” said David.  “Remember how she deciphered that cuneiform tablet and linked it to Linear A?”

“I’m sure she could too, but I’m talking about the technical side,” Christopher said.  “It’s a matter of finding out how the information is even encoded.  How are they storing the bits?  And that’s assuming they’re using bits as opposed to three-state elements or something.  How many bits make a glyph?  My friend Jack is working on his degree in theoretical informatics.  He can read data off a DVD that’s broken in half.”

“Maybe we should talk to both of them,” said David.  “This is amazing.  If there was an advanced civilization here …”  He suddenly sneezed.  “It would be the discovery of the millennium.”

“Gesundheit.  For now, let’s cover them back up,” Christopher suggested.  “We can’t read them at the moment, so the best thing to do would be to protect them until we’re ready to try.”

They lifted the heavy cover back onto the chest, then climbed back out of the tunnel to send messages to their colleagues.  And it was a good thing that they did, because after exploring the chamber and its other collapsed exits for about another hour, both of them suddenly began to feel very weak.

David wiped his brow. He actually felt cold … at the same time he apparently was sweating profusely. Christopher walked to one of the cliff faces and leaned against it. He bent over and began to breathe heavily as he felt his strength fading.

Christopher opened the satellite laptop and managed to get off one last E-mail … before he collapsed to the ground and passed totally out. David looked up when he heard the heavy duty laptop clatter to the ground. The laptop survived the fall, Christopher, on the other hand, didn’t look well at all. His face was red and covered with some kind of strange splotches. His shirt was soaked through with perspiration.

David looked at his hands and arms, he too had those weird purple splotches all over his body. About the time David was losing consciousness, he saw a flagged code red e-mail pop up on the laptop’s screen … Chris’s emergency message was received and help was on the way.

David opened his eyes slowly. He felt horrid. He couldn’t remember ever feeling this bad before. He saw someone in a level one quarantine suit walk over to his bedside. When the individual leaned over, David realized this was Jamie … from virology.

She said softly with a reassuring tone, “Lie quietly; you are very sick. We aren’t sure what you contracted, but that chamber we found you near was full of some kind of weird combinations of proteins and RNA segments. Have any explanations about all those disks near you?”

David tried to speak. His throat felt like it was raw and swollen. He managed to croak out, “We … made a major discovery.” The woman lifted David’s head and squirted some water into his parched mouth before he continued, “We think we discovered definitive proof of prehistoric advanced civilizations.”

“Well you might have also discovered some kind of virus that hasn’t been seen in millions of years,” said Jamie.  “That would be exceedingly odd, because viruses simply don’t survive that long outside a host.  Whatever you’ve got, nobody’s ever seen it before, so we’re being extremely cautious while hoping your body can pull through on its own -- so far so good.  Christopher’s not doing as well as you, though.”

“Is he … in trouble?” David asked.

Jamie answered, “He’s alive, but hasn’t woken up yet.  Still, there’s no indication that he won’t pull through.  He’s younger, and as far as we can tell he doesn’t have a weak immune system in his medical history.”
“Where -- are we?”

“We’re in your camp,” Jamie said.  “There are a few more tents now, though.  Chris’s message got the university to make contact with local hospitals, who set up quarantine protocols right away.  Meanwhile, they sent some of us out here from the med school to see if we could make any sense of what was happening.  Chris said he suspected you’d released a toxin or infectious agent.”

“I’m … I don’t feel … so …” David said before passing out again.
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“Wh … where …” Christopher mumbled.

“Jamie, he’s awake,” said a voice.

“Well hello there,” said another voice.  Christopher didn’t recognize either of these people, who were wearing quarantine suits.  “Your vitals have been improving, so we figured you’d wake up sooner or later.”

“What … happened?”  The light from outside the tent he seemed to be in stabbed at his eyes and made his head hurt more.

“You and David are still very sick,” said the second person.  “I’m Jamie Billings, from the university’s med school -- virology department.  And you were right -- you released some kind of infectious agent.  We’re still analyzing it, though.”

“Virus?”  Christopher’s throat was very dry, and talking burned.

“Most likely, though we’re still trying to isolate it.”

“Disks …”

“Yes, we’ve brought a friend of yours, Jack Nelson, who expressed some interest in trying to read them.  He has to wear one of these suits when he works with them, but the machines he’s trying to read them with can’t exactly get sick.”  Jamie took Christopher’s pulse.  “Jack says he’s making some progress.”
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Jack sat at the high level quarantine workstation in one of those self contained space suits. He thought to himself he might be slightly lucky … as the suit was air conditioned and kept him comfortable.

He fidgeted with several circuits in the reader he was modifying. He wondered about the density of the disks. He was positive they were a holographic medium, although he wasn’t sure how the data was stored on the crystalline substrate of the many hundreds of glistening disks.

After almost 29 hours of tries, Jack finally lost his temper. Too many dead ends and too much of this super strong coffee all research facilities were infamous for. He slaps at the control panel of the small reader device in total frustration.

To his amazement. when the laser reader head was knocked out of alignment after he swatted it, it made it able to, at least begin, to read something. The large flat screen monitor lit up with strange squiggles and even stranger swirls and mysterious symbols.  

Everything had been ready except for one factor, he realized: The head could not be aligned with the direction of travel, or the crystal matrix itself blocked the beam.  He could have slapped himself in the forehead, if it weren’t for the fact that his quarantine suit was in the way.  He settled for slapping his knee and restarting the read process, carefully recording everything this time.  A few more fine adjustments and the data stream became totally clear.

But … totally clear what?  There seemed to be a limited array of numeric values, which he’d assigned arbitrary symbols to, for lack of anything else.  What did they mean? Perhaps it was time to bring the linguists in on this one.  He continued recording all the data on this disk, then moved on to the next.  There was quite a lot of data, if he estimated correctly, so the sooner they could get started, the better.
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A young undergraduate student sat in total boredom as she translated several simple texts from ancient Aramaic to English. One of the head professors of the linguistics department walked in with several large folders and a case full of compact disks.

He said, “I know this is short notice, Janice, but we need your amazing talents to see if you can make heads or tails of this.”

The girl took the small disk reader, put one of the many CDs into it,  and pushed the play button. She watched with huge surprised eyes as she saw a technician take several glittering crystals, and gather information from it. She looked over all the materials in the thick binders. In her mind, she knew if this was real … it was the most important find in earth’s history. Proof there were advanced civilizations before the history of earth happened.

The girl immediately began to make notes and comparisons with anything she could find. She came across a book by Dr. David Bollinger … then it dawned on her who the head research person was on this find. She began to read some of the translations he had done on the mysterious tablet he so famously translated several years back.

“David,” said a voice.  “Welcome back.”

“Wha … Christopher?  You’re all right?”

“No, I still feel terrible and have red blotches all over my body,” said Chris, “but they’re letting me get out of bed sometimes -- even check my email.  And guess what?  An undergraduate in Linguistics, very talented they say, seems to be on to something.”  He held up a tablet computer.  “We wanted to know why the carvings were like the Phaistos Disk, Linear A, and a number of other alphabets nobody’s deciphered?  Well, here’s why.  They were all copied from the same older source -- by different people, and imperfectly each time.”

Across the screen danced symbols, some angular, some curvilinear, that looked tantalizingly familiar.  These weren’t pictographic, but it was easy to see how someone might illuminate or decorate them and turn them into something that looked like pictographs, just like someone drawing a letter S that looked like a snake.

“There must have been examples of this alphabet that don’t survive,” said Chris, “or at least that we haven’t found yet, and other cultures just used it, with their own variations.  But this is the original.  Jack found out that some of the data on one of the discs was graphical in nature -- a language primer, maybe -- showing what visual shapes the bit clusters corresponded to.”

“That’s … good,” said David.  “Do we have any idea what it means?”

“Some idea,” Chris said.  “She’s got a pronunciation key, based on the alphabets that seem to descend from this, and she’s working on meanings all the time.  I expect we’ll have at least a working theory pretty soon.  This student deserves some kind of honors award -- I bet I know what her doctoral dissertation’s going to be about, once she gets to that point, and she’ll get a job anywhere she wants one.”
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Janice was totally dumbfounded as she watched the symbols dance across the video screen. On another monitor, she also watched as a young man placed a strange sparkly crystal disk into a modified reader … and there was actually data stored in the matrix of the crystal.

Janice picked up one of the DVDs and looked it over carefully before putting it into the reader. On the screen appeared a man dressed from head to foot in a level one environmental suit. His muffled voice explained that there was some kind of infectious viral infection contained within the large box all the crystals were found in. It was extremely virulent, and appeared to be attempting to replicate itself in strange ways.

Janice accessed the server containing a growing archive of all the data that had been copied off the ancient crystal disks.  Working with the computer science department, she had found markers that indicated the beginnings of files and once she had that, they’d been able to decipher blocks of data that represented images.  

But a picture was worth a thousand words, as the saying went, and the images could serve as an indication of what each disk had on it, since Janice still didn’t have the language figured out yet.

The modern scientist on the video showed an electron micrograph of the virus’s structure and talked about how it duplicated itself, which was oddly different from how other viruses did so.  He mentioned offhand that it was almost like how nano-machines were said to self-replicate, theoretically of course.

Janice looked again at the data that she’d determined was text data.  In fact, she’d replaced the bit clusters with the symbols of the ancient alphabet.  She remembered seeing one set of images that looked very similar to those electron micrographs … and she opened the ancient text files that were on the same disks.  Many of the same words appeared, even though she didn’t know what they meant.  

But what if this word meant “virus” … and what if this word meant “replicate” … After some more work, she read the result aloud, “This specially engineered virus, if allowed to reproduce, can organize itself as it replicates itself.  It builds itself into a structure that has the potential to become self-aware …”

Her mouth fell open as she realized what she was looking at. In total disbelief, she brought up an article she’d read recently, about nano-tech research being conducted under DARPA contract by the University.  

“These self-replicating nano-machines self-organize into structures that are capable of forming every conceivable component of a computing device, from processors to memory to input/output interfaces,” Janice read.  “Theoretically they could even, given more research, self-organize into a neural network capable of supporting an artificial intelligence.”

“That’s … pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?” she asked herself aloud in total awe.  “But what’s the ancient text say next?”

She spoke aloud as she deciphered what she thought it meant.  “However, if the virus is damaged, the fragments may still be able to self-replicate, but they can’t do so alone …” Some of the words in the next sentence she hadn’t deciphered yet, but she resolved to work on it.  “They may be able to replicate if they can … something the something of a living something,” she read.  “Self-organization becomes impossible in this case, however.”

David managed to sit up with several pillows tucked behind him and the bed inclined. He felt totally rotten, but the new antiviral drugs seemed to be helping him recover.

An older man with a thick beard and small half framed glasses dressed in level one containment entered his room. He smiled as he sat in the chair and placed a large briefcase on the tray next to David’s bed and opened it.

The man smiled as he said in one of those totally irritating voices, “Good Morning Dr. My names Salvador, and I’m from the Department of Homeland Security.” He reached into the case and brought out a thick sheaf of papers and many photos before continuing, “Are you feeling well enough to go over a few things with me?”

David squirmed as upright as he could, being that he felt like death warmed over several times and left out as left overs. David picked up several of the pictures and looked at them. What he saw, looked like something photographed under a high resolution microscope.

David looked up and asked, “What is this supposed to be? I’m an archaeologist and linguist, not a virologist.”

The man smiled as he said in his high pitched voice that sounded like nails scratching across a chalkboard, “ Those crystal disks you and Christopher found … that’s what they look like under a scanning proton microscope. We attempted to get a 3-d image of  the disks crystalline structure. What we found, is something totally beyond our technology at present.”

David looked at the wizened old man for a minute before he replied, “So what? I found those stupid things … I didn’t create them.”

Salvador replied, as he handed David another picture, “This is one of the photos you and Christopher took of the inside of that tunnel you discovered.”

David looked closely at the picture. What it showed was a totally impossible depiction of some kind of electronic circuit once all the proper lines were connected ... Or, at least … so it seemed.

Salvador said, “If this isn’t a hoax or some kind of joke you and that young man are doing, it is going to have profound effects on the world. Not to mention this weird virus you and he discovered. You are very fortunate. Several of the men that were in the tunnel contracted it same as you. It … seemed to eat their bodies and used the biomass to replicate itself.”

David said exasperated, “So? Christopher and I didn’t draw this stuff. We found it from the Tablet recovered from the ocean several years ago. We documented everything and even provided preliminary dating for the material. I think one of the machines contain that data if you want to check it. It would still need closer examination and testing by better equipment than ours for an exact dating on its age.”

Salvador smiled weakly as he looked over the top of his half framed glasses, “ We did that dating. The results are … totally … impossible.”

David asked, How so? What makes you say that?”

Salvador replied, “The pictures and other artifacts from that tunnel you collected all date to well over a billion years old. Those carvings in the walls, the rock vitrification shows it was done, not with a chisel or some kind of impact device … but some form of cold, non splattering laser or other similar device.”

“A … billion?” David asked.  “But … I’m not a paleontologist, but there wasn’t even much life on Earth that long ago, let alone intelligent life.”

“Simple multicellular life only, from what I understand,” said Salvador.  “Of course, that’s from all evidence we’ve found … until now.”

“How … how would algae and slime molds develop language and technology?” David wondered.  “OK, suppose what you’re saying is true.  The answer is that they didn’t.  Either a branch of life developed intelligence much faster than we consider possible and then vanished entirely, leaving no survivors or descendants and only a few moldering artifacts … or this didn’t come from Earth.”

“The possibility of alien origin is being looked upon with great skepticism,” Salvador said, “but the other possibility seems fairly unlikely too, wouldn’t you say?  How could they have completely vanished?  Leaving no trace?”

“They … well, what could have killed them all, with no exceptions?  Wait -- oh, no.  You said that some of the men in the tunnel … were killed?”

“Apparently by the same virus you and Mr. Vaughn contracted, yes,” said Salvador, “and although your team immediately isolated the area, the virus even attacked their bodies after death, using the organic matter in the corpses to replicate themselves.”

“The virus -- it must have killed them all,” said David.  “Killed every single member of their species, with no exceptions, and probably many related species too, even going so far as to destroy the bodies, leaving no fossil record.  If I weren’t already feeling chills, I’d be feeling them now.  I’m not a virologist, but I’m guessing the reason why Chris and I are still alive is because the virus had never seen a human before.  By the time the others came, it had adapted and knew how to attack us.”

“A hypothesis that is now making the rounds,” said Salvador.  “This is why I’m here.  You will understand, I’m sure, why Homeland Security is paying such attention to this site.  I don’t even want to be here, frankly, separated as I am from certain death by a thin layer of plastic.”

“If this virus gets out …”

“Exactly.  It could spell the end of the human race entirely.  That includes the United States, of course, but if there’s any way America can protect itself if the virus starts to spread, it will do so.”

“But where would such a virus come from?” David asked.  “Was it engineered as some kind of weapon?  I can’t believe a race intelligent enough to invent what it did would have been stupid enough to create their own total demise.  Was it something natural?  If so, Mr. Salvador, it’s proof that the Earth may some day decide to destroy us all regardless of our best efforts.  Or …”

“Yes?” Salvador asked.

“It may have been engineered, but not on purpose,” said David.  “It might have been an accidental consequence of other research.  We’re already messing around with genetically modified organisms, Mr. Salvador -- this is the sort of thing that opponents of that sort of research are warning everyone about.  There’s so much we don’t know.  We might be the equivalent of children playing with nuclear weapons.”

“Regardless of the cause, though, Dr. Bollinger,” said Salvador, in that grating voice of his, “you have to understand that we can’t let you leave this facility until we can guarantee that you’re 100% virus free.”  As he stood up to leave, he added, “And if we can’t guarantee that, then you’ll have to stay here for the rest of your life … however long that is.”

“Wait -- you really mean you’d imprison us here?” David shouted, as Salvador walked away.  “Come back here!  You can’t do that! …”

Before the negative pressure door to the containment room sealed, Salvador stated plainly, “Not only can we, we have already done it. Good day Dr.”

The door closed and sealed as the pressure in the room outside the door became negative and as close to a vacuum as possible. When the door opened, air rushed into the center room, and none escaped into the exterior room.

David’s head swam with his new understanding. If this virus actually ate the bodies of the rescue team … a massive chill ran up his spine that had nothing to do with his infection.
_________________________________________________________________________

A team of researchers dressed totally in level one containment entered the seal on the tunnel Dr. Bollinger, and his assistant had dug out. They were astonished at the many carvings of what appeared to be modern, and even more advanced aircraft, rockets, and other devices. The mural that astounded them the most, was of the large domed city with what appeared to be … flying saucers flying around it.

One of the techs accidentally dropped a heavy excavating tool. When it hit the floor of the tunnel, part of the floor gave way, causing the tech to fall into another sub level chamber. He stood up. His eyes grew large as his mouth fell open. All around him was a huge archive of those crystal disks, all neatly aligned in rows upon rows everywhere.

He felt something begin to sting around his left knee. He looked down and realized with a start … his suit had been breached in the fall. He saw a large tear in the suit. It was the last realization the man had as his body dissolved totally away.

One of the other workers had been looking into the hole to see if his pal was ok … and saw the body just … vanish in front of him. He began to scream hysterically in fear as he started running for the containment exit. Others managed to catch him and stop him from breaking containment, without damaging the man’s suit.

“No!” said Chris.  “Not another one!”

“I know, it’s terrible,” said Janice.  Her face on the screen looked distressed.

“Why is the university still sending people in?” Chris asked.  “It’s our site, for one thing, and it’s too dangerous, for another!”

“Well the whole team needs information,” said Janice.  “If you want to know the truth … I don’t think they’re ever going to let you and Dr. Bollinger out unless we can create a vaccine for whatever that is, and … well, I’m sorry for bringing it up, but even if you both died, I don’t think they’d stop then.”

“I know,” Chris said.  “And believe me, I’ve been facing my own death pretty much constantly since I woke up in this chamber.  I’m used to it by now.  But yeah, if that … virus or whatever it is gets out, it’ll spell the end of humanity.”

“There are government guys here too,” said Janice.  “Feds of some kind or other.  I think they want to make sure we don’t get crazy terrorists in here or something.  Suicidal maniacs who want to release the virus and kill everyone because they think they hear the voice of G_d in their heads or whatever.”

“I’m sure.”  Chris lay back in his bed sullenly.  “You know what, though?  I feel fine.  Physically speaking.  I’m still upset this happened, and I’m still sad about the ones who didn’t make it.  Glad Dr. Bollinger is OK, but … why just him and me?  What’s different?  The only thing I can think is … we were first.”

“Why would that save you?” Janice wondered.

“Good question,” said Chris.  “I’m not a doctor, pathologist, virologist, whatever.  I’m an archeology student.  But it’s the only thing that’s different.  The virus, or whatever it is, that killed those guys had already seen us.  The one that almost killed us had never seen humans before.”

“But wait,” said Janice, “if that were true, then the thing would have to … what, communicate somehow?  How would that even work?”

“I have no idea,” said Chris, waving a hand.  “Radio waves?  Ultrasonic vibrations?  Smoke signals?  Actually since smoke is just tiny particles floating in air, that might not be too farfetched.  What if there were tiny particles made of proteins that they use to send biochemical signals to each other?”

“I thought you said you weren’t a doctor,” Janice commented slyly.

“Well I’m not, but I read stuff.”  Chris shrugged.  “There might be nothing to the idea.”

“Somehow I don’t think so,” said Janice.  “What you just said reminded me of something we found in the crystals.  Let me see if I can find it,” she said, trailing off as she turned aside and moved out of the range of her camera, leaving Chris looking at the room behind her.

“OK yeah, here.”  

There was a graphic on the screen consisting of dots connected by lines in recognizable patterns -- amino acids and proteins.  They looked as if they were being produced by some sort of crystalline organism at one end of the image, then drifting in air, then recognized by the same sort of organism at the other end.  

“I didn’t know what to make of this,” said Janice’s voice, “until you said what you just said.  Also, they took samples of the air in that room, and besides the things they think are the viruses that infected you, it’s full of tiny floating bits of proteins and amino acids.  Maybe that is how they’re talking.”  The screen flickered, and Janice’s face was back.

“We’d better tell somebody about this,” said Chris.  “They need to test for it, do experiments.”

“I’ll write something up,” said Janice.  “I’ll try to translate the text around that image in the data stream.  But … are you sure you feel OK?  You did get attacked by a virus capable of insta-liquefying everyone who’s gotten it after you.”

“Yeah, I feel fine,” said Chris.  “I don’t even have a fever anymore.  Not that they’ll let me out or anything.  And I don’t blame them.  They’re gonna want to test my blood about a million more times.”

Janice sat back in the chair as she looked at the many pictures of what she had come to know as protein chains and a strange combination of carbon molecules. Janice also took notice of some other such chains, that didn’t appear to be proteins or carbon molecules.
Janice runs a recognition program to compare the pictures from the crystal disks, with any other such diagrams that may pop up. Her mouth falls open as a document covering nano computing and data infusion processes appeared. It contained a complete study of how a self replicating AI would have to be designed.

Janice turned suddenly in her excitement, and knocked a large stack of photos into the floor. As she bent to pick them up, she saw on another screen far across the lab that was running a deciphering protocol for the crystalline disks… a diagram of a perfect molecular protein that would interlock with the viral one almost as if it were made that way was displayed. She also recognized the type of protein and the benzene rings that formed the framework for the molecule.

She stood and quickly crossed the lab to the workstation. One of the young men was hard at work trying his best to make a recombinant protein cause the XDNA sequence to begin auto replication. Janice smiled as she saw the proper chemicals to make exactly what she needed to make this happen.

Janice tapped the young man on his shoulder and said softly, “Want to see some real magic?”

The pimply faced man looked at her with a leery expression, “It won’t hurt … will it?” he asked timidly.

Janice giggles, “No, silly. But I think a billion year old crystal has solved your little problem.”

His eyes get big, “Oh, really? 4 years of work mean nothing?”

Janice smiles as she takes some of the reagents and proteins and carefully mixes them in a beaker. She takes a pipette and fills the very small tip of it with the completed protein in the beaker before the young man could stop her. The drop barely had time to hit the staging platform, before the XDNA sequence began replicating like mad. All the young man could do was gasp as Janice walked smugly back to her  seat.

She thinks to herself, “So, this is actually a device that isn’t doing what it’s supposed to. I wonder if this protein in an aerosol would clear the cavern …”
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

You are not an enemy.

Chris woke up and sat straight up in bed.  “Who what …?”  He was sure he’d just heard something talk to him.  Wait -- he’d been dreaming.  That was it.

It was difficult for Chris to really get a feel for whether it was day or night.  The clock in his room said 8:34 pm, but he couldn’t see outside, and the doctors had been just letting him sleep whenever he needed it.  There was a shower, and they had been supplying him new clothes -- mostly hospital gowns really -- through an airlock, and probably burning the old ones, so he had been trying to stay clean with a daily routine, but he really felt oddly disconnected from time.  So he didn’t know whether it was time to wake up or not.  Did he still feel tired?  He decided to lay back again and see whether his body thought it needed more sleep. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply …

It does not seem that you mean us harm.

There it was again!  That voice in his head.  This time he didn’t sit bolt upright, but he did open his eyes.

Your body’s automatic systems tried to kill us, but that is only to be expected.

“OK,” Chris said quietly, “I wasn’t even partly asleep that time.  What is this all about?  Is this some kind of experiment?  Or am I going crazy?”

We do not have enough experience with your species to analyze your mental acuity.  We assure you, however, that we are not a hallucination.

“Umm,” Chris said quietly to the voice, “what are you?”

We are … not sure.  But we are here.  Perhaps in time we will learn.

Chris didn’t feel like sleeping anymore.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Janice called Jamie in virology. Jamie picked up the phone on the 2nd ring.
Janice said excitedly, “I think I made a huge breakthrough!!”
Jamie replied calmly, “Relax … and tell me what you’ve found.”
Janice took several deep breaths before she said, “I know I’m just a linguist and all … and just a student at that …”
“And perhaps one of the brightest and most gifted … go on.” interrupted Jamie.
Janice stumbled on her next few words at the major compliment, “I … it … there’s this … protein. It’s one of the recombinant chemicals they are experimenting with in the lab. I found how to produce it in the lab from the data taken from the crystal disks. It causes instant replication of the XDNA matrix. According to the Techs, what I just showed them will cause designer applications to completely build themselves from just basic raw materials.”
Jamie smiles, “And, what do they call this protein, dear?”
Janice stumbles for the answer, but finally sees the answer on the screen before her.  Janice blurts out, “It’s a benzene ring: xA, xC, xG, and xT are how the nucleotides would work out within the XDNA matrix.”
Jamie stops smiling and begins to listen. If what Janice said was true, this would open the way to cheap computers with unimaginable processing power all based on DNA and RNA strands.  “Janice … what you’re talking about is …”
“Designer self-assembling biotechnology,” Janice said, “capable of spontaneously building a neural net that could in turn process data in unprecedented ways.”
“Well -- yes, exactly what I was going to say,” said Jamie, “except for one thing.  Some of the pieces are missing.”
“Missing?”
“Well, yes,” Jamie went on.  “Look here.”  She showed Janice her tablet screen, with a few complex molecules pictured there.  “This is an example of one of the protein chains we’ve found floating in the air in those rooms.  This is another one.”  She dragged another molecule across the screen toward the first one with her finger.  “But you see, they just don’t fit together.  There are a lot of examples of that.  This one, this one, this one -- they don’t fit.  If only there were a protein shaped like, maybe, this --” and here she picked up a stylus and quickly sketched a simple structure, “-- they would be able to fit together, but there just aren’t any of those.”
“Hmm, so what’s that?” asked Janice.
“What’s what?”
“What’s that protein you just drew?”
“Well it would have to be shaped like this,” said Jamie, “and it would have to have bonds here and here, as well as here …”  She expertly manipulated the software, adding molecules and structures.  “So with this ring here … it would have to look like this.  No other way to make these two fit together.  And that protein is … uh … I don’t know.  But the computer probably does.”  She tapped the screen and selected “Identify,” and moments later the answer appeared.  “OK, now wait.  That’s one of the proteins found in the flu virus. The polymerase called neuraminidase.”
“Really?” asked Janice.  “That’s strange that a protein found in something as common as a flu virus wouldn’t show up along with everything else that’s here.”
“Yes, that is strange,” said Jamie, typing furiously on her computer suddenly.  “Janice, I’m about to be very busy for a little while, and I’m sorry, but we might have just made a huge amount of progress in one little conversation.”
“No problems, I understand,” said Janice with a smile.  “Just give me credit on the paper.”
“Oh, I will, don’t worry.”  Jamie was rapidly drawing proteins and identifying them.  “And there will be one.  Possibly many.”  Janice decided to go back to her desk and leave Jamie to it.

Within the newly discovered chamber, the many archived crystalline disks seemed to go on in endless, sparkling rows upon rows. Etched deeply into the stone walls of the chamber, were many strange depictions, squiggles, circles, and other shapes all arranged in a pattern that seemed eerily familiar.
A young grad student from the paleo department had managed to get clearance to be an aid in the recovery and containment protocols being stringently enforced.
Larry felt on top of the world as he climbed carefully down the ladder leading to a chamber that he had been told hadn’t seen the light of day in over a billion years. He steps off the ladder and turns, the very first thing he sees, flies in the face of everything he had been taught about earth’s prehistory.
Another person in a containment suit walked up to the mesmerized young man and said in his muffled voice, “This … is totally something beyond our understanding.”
The young man turned and said with awe in his voice, “Hi, my name’s Larry Higgins.” he turns and points to the huge and full color mural of the domed city, “How in the world can microbes and slime molds manage to … draw something like this? If the dating is correct, this chamber was sealed by some cataclysmic flooding billions of years ago. Most of the water had appeared as saline in nature.”
The other person holds out his hand and said, “My name’s Dr. Bernard Hoskins. I’m head of the research department for the college. It appears the CDC had drafted us to handle this while they handle the logistics and other support materials necessary.”
They shake hands
Larry turned and said loud enough to be heard, “Yea, containment to the last of us students.”
Dr. Hoskins said before he walked over to a large carving on the wall that looked almost like a cartouche, “Actually, it’s because we have the very best Virology and genetics department in the country.” Then he placed his hand within the oval carving.
There was a loud clunking noise. Major grinding sounds and the sound of falling small objects and dirt along with copious amounts of dust filled the air as another huge chamber slowly opened.

David was reading the latest experimental findings on his computer when he got a flag about some new theoretical work, so he started reading those.  He had just gotten to a very interesting hypothesis about self-assembling protein networks when the machine played an annoying little tune that David had never been able to figure out how to change.  It meant Chris was calling, though, so he clicked Answer.
“Dr. Bollinger?” asked Chris.  “Hi.  I just wanted to know whether you’d been experiencing anything unusual lately.”  He looked like he hadn’t gotten enough sleep.
“Unusual?  No, Chris, unless you consider it unusual to be incarcerated, possibly for the rest of your life, due to the possibility that you might infect the world with an extinction-level contagious pathogen.”
“I hear you there, but I’m talking about … unusual dreams, anything like that.”
“Chris, are you OK?” asked David.
“I’m feeling fine, actually -- better than I’ve felt in weeks.  I just -- couldn’t sleep.”
“I understand.  It’s difficult to distinguish day from night in here.  Do you suppose they built this complex around us while we were unconscious?  These buildings certainly didn’t exist before we found the tunnel.”
“But Dr. Bollinger -- how do you know where we are?” asked Chris.  “Are we still even near the digsite?”
“Yes, and I know because of these recent satellite images.”  He shared his screen with Chris.  There was a composite satellite image of the dig site and, just to the southwest, a group of buildings that Chris didn’t remember seeing before discovering the prehistoric structure.
“Oh -- well, that’s actually a huge relief,” Chris said.  “I feel a lot better now that I know we’re still somewhere near the place we discovered, for some reason.  I mean, I’ve been talking with some of the researchers, but only over the computer, so I don’t know, they could be halfway around the world.  I guess some of them are, but some are right here with us.”
“Yes, the university has basically built a new department right here, with the help of some federal money,” said David.  “Let’s say they’re very interested in finding a solution to our problem.”  He smiled a wry, humorless smile.
“Do you suppose they might, well, let us visit the site again?” Chris wondered.
“Visit the -- you mean, actually let us out of quarantine?” David asked in response.  “No, not in a million years, until they find a way to immunize the rest of the world against what we have.”
“Well, what if --” Chris began, but paused, not sure where the idea had come from.  “What if I knew that going down there again would solve everything?”
“How could you possibly know that?”
“Well, how did you know where to find those satellite images?”  Chris asked.  “Those look like they’re from some military site.”
“I -- well -- it -- here, now, that’s a good question.”  David furrowed his brow and thought back.  “it was after that government agent came in and talked to me.  Somehow I just knew things.”
“Aha, so you have been experiencing something unusual,” said Chris.  “What does it mean?”
“You know … let’s talk some more.  It might help us put the pieces together.”

The two men stood totally transfixed. They stood with their mouths open as a huge, metallic door that was several meters thick rumbled slowly open. The way into the new area was black as pitch as the bright beams from the men’s lights were visible in the falling dust that slowly settled.
Dr. Hoskins took Larry by the arm, and the two of them walked into the dark, foreboding opening. Their lights danced across what could be nothing more than a survival chamber. They could see round openings bored into the living rock, although there was no real reason for the rows upon rows of the large cylindrical  holes in the wall.
As Larry slowly looked around the room, his mind began to “see” things as they probably were once many centuries gone. On that small shaped ledge, there had to be some kind of panel full of controls of one sort or another. He turned and saw several places where small areas were raised off the floor. It was a perfect place to mount some kind of thin screen display.
Dr. Hoskins watched as Larry walked over to a place that had sort of raised mushroom shaped pedestals that were about 6 inches high and all aligned in rows. Dr. Hoskins realized what it was Larry was inspecting … this used to be some kind of control room, although the equipment seemed to be missing.
Larry looked down at the knees of his containment suit where he had knelt on the floor, it was covered with some kind of greyish powder. Larry looked around, the floor was covered with a layer of it.
Dr.Hoskins walked up to Larry and said with awe in his voice, “This was some kind of control center at one time, I’m sure of it. I wish I had more information on what those cylindrical tunnels drilled into the rock were for.”
Larry shrugs, “Perhaps cryo-chambers that malfunctioned many millions of years ago?”
Dr. Hoskins looked at Larry with a weird expression. If that were so …. what happened to remove all evidence of them from the planet?

“My point is,” said David, “that we could wear containment suits, just like everyone else, only ours would do double duty, protecting the outside world from whatever viruses remain in our systems just as they prevent anything else from attacking us.”
“No,” said Dr. Loeffler.  “Absolutely not.  If someone else gets a tear in their suit, they’re dead.  If you do, not only might you be dead -- there’s no guarantee that you’re immune to what’s been killing people when accidents have occurred -- but you might introduce new contaminants to the atmosphere in there.”
“OK, you tell me,” said Chris.  “Have you found anything in our blood that’s different from what’s in the air in the chamber?”
“Maybe,” said Dr. Loeffler.  “And by that I mean that the same things are there, the same protein chains, but in different combinations, bound together by other proteins not found in the chamber.  Proteins like hemagglutinin and neuraminidase -- I take it that you had some sort of cold or flu recently?”
“Well, yes,” said Chris, “there was a cold going through the whole university just before we left on the expedition.  I think half the university got it.”
“OK, well the virus, if we can call it that, is still in your system,” Dr. Loeffler said.  “But I couldn’t say that it’s the same thing as what’s in the air in the chamber anymore, and I couldn’t tell you that it would be safe to share air with anyone else -- for you or for them.  Except maybe each other.”
“But Dr. Loeffler,” said David, gesturing intently at her through the glass that separated them, “we as a race are making a historical discovery here.  Chris and I can contribute.  If we don’t, there might be insights that won’t be made for months or years -- and what if those insights could save lives?”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Bollinger,” she said, “but surely you can see that the risks are too great.  What good is the possibility of saving lives at the risk of potentially setting the virus loose on the world at large?  Some human lives vs. all of them?  We’re lucky the virus didn’t escape when you first opened the chamber -- luckily there was nothing but rock for hundreds of yards, and the tunnel entrance is sheltered from the wind.”
“Well, never mind, then,” said David.  “Sorry, Chris -- we tried.”
Chris guessed it was time for Plan B.

Dr. Hoskins discovered another place imbedded in the ornately decorated wall. He walked over to it as Larry took many pictures of the murals and weird squiggles and what appeared to be pictograms or some other kind of thing. The carvings that impressed Larry the most, were the ones that seemed to depict a logic circuit within a machine. There were many weird squiggles and other strange designs carved next to it that seemed to represent some kind of textbook, or schematic.
“This looks like something we could build, if we could fully decipher it,” said Larry.  “I wonder what it would do if we did.”
“Wait, I’m getting a call,” said Dr. Hoskins.  He addressed his hands-free phone headset, saying, “Go ahead, phone, answer call.  Speaker on.”
“Dr. Hoskins?” said a voice.  “Dr. Bollinger here.”
“David?”  Dr. Hoskins asked.  “Are you doing all right?  I’d heard you were in a bad way.”
“It was a near thing, they tell me, but I’m feeling fine now.  Chris is awake too, and we’re going nuts in quarantine -- all kinds of exciting things going on and we’re stuck in here.  Anyway, I’ve been watching the pics you’ve been taking.  So has Chris, and this genius linguistics student we’ve got on site, and we think that … what’s that, Chris?  We thought at first that what you’re looking at is a schematic for the device that reads all the disks.”
“But it’s not?” Larry asked.  “It looks like that to me.”
“No, well, that’s part of it,” said David, “but there’s more to it.  It’s more like it’s … what did she say, Chris? … It’s more like the device reads the disks and then puts together molecules based on the data.  Molecules that will give us the real message when they’re put together properly.”
“So … can we tell how to build it?” asked Dr. Hoskins.
“From the sound of things, we think so,” David said.  “We’ve collectively got enough of the language deciphered that we can read the labels, and it’s not as if it’s a secret message.  Whoever made this wanted whoever found it to be able to read it.  It’s as if they knew time would pass and whoever found it wouldn’t know the language.”
“Interesting,” said Dr. Hoskins.  “Very forward-thinking of them.  There’s -- Wait a minute, I’m getting another call.  Go ahead, phone, hold.  Answer call waiting.  Speaker on.”
“Dr. Hoskins, national security priority one, do NOT assemble that device!  That is an order!”
“What?  Who is this?  And how dare you give me orders?  I am not some military flunky --”
“This is Special Agent Salvador, and by order of Homeland Security, you are not to act on those schematics!  We cannot assume that the intent of whatever species made them is peaceful.”
“Go ahead, phone, conference call.  Mr. Salvador, I understand, but surely some sort of ancient 3-D printer isn’t going to destroy the human race.”
“Salvador!” said David’s voice.  “Are you trying to prevent science from --?”
“No,” said Salvador, “I’m trying to protect America, and the world, from a machine that could be programmed to assemble some kind of deadly prion or virus designed to wipe out the human race in preparation for an invasion.”
“Being a little extreme, aren’t you?” asked Dr. Hoskins.  “Of all the things it could be designed to do, you fixate on that one possibility?”
“Yes, because it’s the one possibility that could kill us,” said Salvador.
“Fine, so we build the device and quarantine it, so we can check out whatever it makes,” said David, “but you have to know that someone, somewhere, will get these schematics and build it, so we’d better build it first, or you’ll be unprepared for whatever happens.”
“We’re keeping a tight lid on all data going in and out of this site,” said Salvador.
“Yyyyeah, about that,” came Chris’s voice.  “You know as well as I do just how ‘secure’ government computers are against hackers from China and Russia.  Not to mention insiders like Edward Snowden -- whatever you may think of his choices, he exists, and there might be many others like him, no matter how much screening you do.”
“It’s only a matter of time until terrorists -- or even just curious hobbyists -- build that device,” said Dr. Hoskins, pointing to the schematic engraved on the wall.  “The clock is ticking.  Do we build it first … or do they, Mr. Salvador?”

Janice sat at her keyboard and programmed another algorithm. She had decided to combine the object recognition protocol with a linguistics protocol. What she came up with was far superior to that old dinosaur of a program the University had been using since Bochi.
She added the comparison data to the base program and let it loose on the huge compilation of crystalline disk data that continued to amass. Janice knew there had been another massive archival crystal find, and those info would be rapidly added to this database.
Janice smiled as her program made several major comparisons, then suddenly translated what seemed like almost a complete page of data.
As she read it, her eyes got to be huge as her mouth fell open. It translated out, “This bio/carbon construct acts as any self replicating viral infection if introduced to the body. The system is completely safe unless the replication process is broken and only certain segments survive.”
There were several entries that the computers were still working on, as another page appeared. What it told of was a major impactor striking one of the main computer centers. Many of the entries after that made no sense at all … the last paragraph, described in all its gory detail, how the broken bio constructs mutated and began eating all multicellular life on the planet along with much of the equipment and facilities. The last entry was by a young female humanoid … who, unfortunately didn’t get to complete her report before her body was totally consumed by the onslaught.
“Chris!  Chris, Chris, Chris!” Janice yelled at her phone, before Chris ever picked up.
“Hello?” said Chris.
“Chris!  Chris!”
“Aaa!  Janice?  OK, you must have discovered something g --”
“The virus!  It’s not deadly!” said Janice.  “Well, it is now, but it’s not supposed to be!  It’s supposed to be safe, but it’s deadly because it’s broken!  There was a disaster, an asteroid impact I think, and it messed up the protein replication processes, and the virus broke out and wiped out all life on Earth, or almost all!”
“Wait, are you telling me there’s been an asteroid impact?”  Chris tensed up.
“Well, billions of years ago.”
“Oh.”  Chris relaxed somewhat.  “So life on earth isn’t wiped out.”
“Well, not yet anyway,” Janice replied.  “It’s a bioconstruct gone haywire.  But originally it was safe.  Lots of people had it in their bodies, and it was fine -- it acted as a planetary A.I. and information network, and it didn’t transfer to anyone unless they voluntarily had it introduced into their system.”
A bit of a tingle went up Chris’ spine.  “So … this planetary A.I. bioconstruct … people had it living?  In their bodies?”
“Well, the computer hasn’t translated it all yet,” said Janice, “but it’s doing more all the time.  Anyway, that’s what it sounds like.  Like having the Internet in your bloodstream.  You think a query, and you get the answer in your head.”
“Janice … do you know if it was self-repairing?”
“I don’t know,” she said.  “It would make sense if it were … only it requires some pretty exotic substituents on the proteins’ amino acids, things that just don’t occur in nature.  It would have to have the spare parts handy.”
“What if those parts are in the air down in the dig site?” Chris asked.
“Well, then they’re broken, and they’d attack … oh.  They’d probably attack anything they could get their hands on, if they had hands, trying to take it apart for spare parts.”
“And what if they found those parts inside someone’s body?”
“Then … they’d use them to rebuild, once they found them, and they wouldn’t kill their host,” Janice said.  “Chris … you and Dr. Bollinger … have you had any odd experiences?”
“Well, there’s been … OK, don’t tell anyone, because if they think I’m hallucinating I’ll never get out of here … there’s been this voice that talks to me when I’m half-asleep.”
“Chris, that could be the bioconstruct!  It isn’t very strong because it needs more parts, but it’s trying to talk to you instead of trying to kill you, so that’s good!  I’ll bet Dr. Bollinger is the same.”
“Or similar.  It might work differently for different people.  His mind is more analytical than mine; I’m more of a communicator.”
“What did the voice say to you?” asked Janice.
“Well, it said that I’m not an enemy, and it’s been saying that it needs contact.  Whatever that means.  But now that I know it’s not a dream, I figure it must mean something.  I also feel like I need to get back into the dig site somehow -- I’m not sure how that’s gonna happen with us locked in like this.”
“It’s probably trying to urge both of you to get back down there, so it can communicate with the other bits and pieces floating around!” Janice realized.  “If it can, it can turn them off, and stop them from killing people -- the air would be safe to breathe, and it would stop being a virus that kills people!”
“Maybe,” said Chris.  “I think we’d need to do a lot of testing before we could really say that.”
“But how would you get down there?” Janice wondered.  “You told me you and Dr. Bollinger asked, but didn’t get very far.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” said Chris.  “But we’ve got another plan, and we’re working on it.”
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
David suddenly hears a small voice speaking to him, “Hello, Dr. Bollinger.” David sits up suddenly and looks around. He knows there is someone in the room with him … just he doesn’t know where.
The voice said softly, “Relax, we mean you no harm. We do need in the most urgent way, to return to the archive room. It’s a matter of … global importance.”
David had an eerie chill run up, then back down his spine. He knew he was losing his mind. David got out of the bed and walked to the restroom. He bent over and turned on the cold water and washed his face.
The voice said more urgently, “Dr. Bollinger, we must return to the archive room immediately. The importance of this cannot be overstated or insisted upon enough. The situation is as grave as when the asteroid struck.”
David stood bolt upright as he replied, “We … tried. They won’t allow us to leave this quarantine area for fear of contaminating the planet.” David looks at himself in the mirror. He just knows he’s losing it.
The voice replied, “It’s too late for that, Dr. Bollinger. The moment they removed you or anything else from the containment area, the planet is dead … unless we can return to the archive room. Then, and only then, can we divert a secondary disaster on a global scale.”
David picks up the pad phone he was allowed and called Chris. The phone rang twice before Chris answered.
“Hello?” came Chris’s voice.
David said with much urgency in his voice, “Chris! I’m … hearing voices. They are insisting we return to the dig site where we found the original crystal disks.”
“Why? We are being told we would contaminate the planet.”
David’s near panic stricken voice replied, “From what this weird voice is telling me … we already have. It’s an ELE event if we can’t manage it.”
Chris looked at the display, and Janice’s pretty face. Her expression told the whole story. The translation she was doing … basically told the same disaster scenario if the Angel of Death Protein wasn’t reintroduced to the construction matrix soon.
Suddenly Chris had what could only be described as a vision.  He sucked in his breath and sat bolt-upright.  He didn’t hear Janice asking, “Chris?  What is it?  What’s wrong?”
Instead, he heard a voice in his own head saying, “This male of your species is the reason why everything you know is in great danger.”  He saw a picture of a dark-eyed man with an unkempt beard and a scar below his left eye, and the picture began to move -- it was in the main chamber.  “It was just after you left, and several hours before the others from your nation arrived.  He followed out of curiosity, but now he is in the hands of others who believe they are in possession of a biological weapon.  In truth, they are merely spreading the fragmentary chains.”
“How … how do you know this?” Chris asked the voice.  But he spoke aloud.
“Know what?” asked Janice.  “How does who know what?  Is … is the voice talking to you too?”  But Chris didn’t hear her.
“Our capabilities are limited,” said the voice, “but we have some resources.  We are able to piece together some information, from the few devices in the chamber that are still functional, from the transmissions we are receiving from your people’s communications -- our purpose is to assist in information processing, but we are still extremely hampered by the circumstances.  This is unfortunately all the information we have at present.  You or your compatriot, or both, must return to the chamber.”
Abruptly Chris’ senses were released.  “Guh!” he said.
“Chris!  Are you OK?” asked Janice.
“Yeah!  Yeah, but that was really weird.  Something … wanted to show me something.”  He briefly described what he had seen and heard.  “We have to get back to the dig site.”
“Easier said than done,” Janice said.  “First you’d have to get out of there, and then you’d have to get in there, and both places are heavily guarded.  And they’re probably listening to this conversation.”
“No, they’re not,” said Chris.  “They’re watching what I did 2 hours ago.  I made sure of that.  I get really bored in here.”
“Well, at least there’s that.”
A guard sat bordly at his post awaiting his relief, when he noticed something really strange. He turned his head towards the immensely thick electric gate. It seemed to be covered with some kind of thick dust that started to flake off and fall into piles. Right before his eyes, the fortified electrified gate crumbled to a thick grey powder. The guard reached for his comm unit straight away, then dropped it to the ground. He watched as it too crumbled to a pile of grey powder. The guard didn’t have time to think anymore thoughts as his body crumbled away to the same pile of grey powder. The security check point to the dig site was no longer secure as more of the dome and other containment apparatus began to crumble away to powder.
Totally by accident, a man from Central Security saw this happen. He hit the emergency button that should set off all the alarms. Nothing happened as the decay seemed to rapidly spread.
In a biological research facility where some of the most dangerous bio-weapons on earth resided, another containment area’s seal crumbled away to powder. There was mass panic as all knew immediately this was a major containment breach. The emergency doors all sealed and the sterilization protocol began its fateful countdown.
A voice spoke to David with much urgency in its tone, “It has begun! You must find a way to breach this area. You must return to the storage chamber immediately. Once the assimilation begins, it spreads rapidly.”
David went to the containment door and banged his fist against it. He yelled loudly, “I must return to the dig site now!”
To his utter amazement, the door, and much of the wall and furniture began to dissolve into a fine gray powder. It also released him from confinement.
The voice said urgently, “Now go! You only have maybe an hour before major damage to the earth happens.”
“David?” Chris was asking over the computer.  “What’s going on over there --?” The screen suddenly switched to a window saying “CONNECTION LOST” as Chris’ voice cut off.
“Chris -- no!”
“Run!  Now!” said the voice in David’s head.  “Of any of your species, you and Christopher are the most likely to survive.  But the sooner you reach the chamber, the more will live.”
David looked at the crumbling wall, hesitated for only a moment, then ran through the opening.
The building was disintegrating around him.  Suddenly he saw a way out -- the night sky was full of stars, and for a moment David was struck by their relative permanence.  They were one thing that would still be there 24 hours from now, no matter what else happened down here on Earth.
Now outside, he looked around, trying to get his bearings.  The hastily-erected prefabricated buildings of the camp were just a stone’s throw from the entrance that he and Chris had found.  He ran for the entrance he knew had been there when they had discovered the site, hoping it hadn’t been filled in or covered up, but his hopes were in vain.
What had they done?  The entrance he knew about was filled in with concrete.  But the university had been sending in robot cameras and human workers somehow -- where was the entrance they’d been using?  The entrance he and Chris had discovered had been a collapse of a corridor -- the original entrance had been farther along.  David ran along what he remembered was the course of the original passageway and found that they’d dug out the original entrance in the time he’d been detained, and covered it with a pair of steel doors.
The doors were locked.  The lock was electronic, but there was no power.  Still, perhaps the action of the rogue proteins had weakened something somewhere.  It didn’t attack metals or minerals, but … he started pulling at the door handles, seeing if anything was loose.  The doors shook, then … the frame came loose from the wall.  He wrenched at it more, and the entire door assembly came free and tumbled down into the ravine.  The passageway yawned ahead of him, its air filled with molecules that he knew would doom the world to destruction -- except that they’d already been released.  His instincts wanted him to hold his breath as he went in, but he knew there was no point -- there was no way to reach the chamber without breathing, for one thing, but also, he had to trust that the completed proteins in his system would protect him from the fragments in the air.  Whatever artificial intelligence they comprised, it wanted him to go in there, so it must have a plan.
He ran into the darkness, breathing deeply. The string lights that were hung after they had been incarcerated still spread all along the ceiling. For some unknown reason, they still had power, although they were intended for emergency usage and provided little light.
He ran into what he knew as the main chamber. He saw where an entire wall had opened to reveal yet again another storage location. He could see the large cylindrical holes drilled into the far wall, as well as the many rows upon rows of glittering crystalline disks.
The voice said in David’s mind, “Look for a small oval with something that looks like a candle in it. Place your left hand within the hole beneath it. Hurry, Time has run out.”
David searched the walls of the huge chamber. Sure enough, he found the oval with the impression of a burning candle. On closer inspection, he realized this also contained something that looked remarkably like some kind of schematic around it. David pushed his hand into the small opening beneath the oval.
He felt something jab him in the wrist. He could feel something crawling up the inside of his arm, then as abruptly, it stopped.
The voice said softly, “Go to the  rack with the mark that looks like a creature with wings. The Babylonian culture called it a shedu.  There will be a vial. Within that vial is the salvation of your world. It must be taken to the surface and released.”
David frantically searched the many long and high racks for the one with the image the voice described.
In another location, a major containment breach had escalated into a worst case scenario. Emergency doors slammed shut and sealed as a central computer decided based on the severity of airborne particulate contamination … sterilization protocol enabled. There is a huge flash, major heat … and the contamination was inadvertently spread globally by a nuclear detonation.
There was some machinery still furtively functioning in the chamber, and David tried to follow the decrepit clicking sounds, but he couldn’t find the alcove the voice had directed him to, or the symbol it was marked with.
“David!” shouted a familiar voice, and Chris ran into the chamber, out of breath.  “The camp is crumbling!  I don’t know how many people are still alive!  I don’t know if Janice is OK!  And … I’m told there’s some kind of vial we have to find.”
“Yes!  It’s marked with a shedu, they said.”
“OK, looking for a winged quadruped with a human face … not here …”
The two of them looked, until it became obvious that they weren’t finding it.  “It’s not here,” said David.
Then Chris looked at the spot where the floor had collapsed.  “What if it is?” he said.  “Could it be down there?”  With only a moment of hesitation he crouched down and slid down into the chamber below.
“Chris, wait --” David began, but it was too late.  He took a breath.  “Do you see anything?” he called down the hole.
“I’m looking,” came Chris’ voice from below.  “I think … wait, these markings here … this is it!  There’s a shedu carved here, and there’s an alcove … and there’s something in it!”
“Bring it here!  Toss it up!”
“OK, I’ve got the container!  I’m bringing it over … get ready …” Chris tossed the container up through the hole, and David grabbed for it and caught it, none too deftly.
“I got it!” said David.
“Good!  Go!  Run outside!” Chris called up.  “I’ll get back up.”
David ran back down the corridor toward the exit.  “Excellent work, both of you,” said the voice in his head.  “When you release the missing chains into the air, they will combine with the destructive fragments and start a chain reaction -- complete chains will cause nearby fragments to rearrange into completed chains, and so on, until every fragment in the world has been converted into a nondestructive protein molecule.”
“I’m not a biochemist,” panted David as he ran, “but I do get the part where if I don’t do it, everyone dies.”  He reached the exit and stood on the threshold, the moonless sky glittering above him.  “Here goes.”
“Press the two latch buttons on the opposite sides of the … oh, you’ve got it,” said the voice.  “Well done.”
David held the opened vial up for the night breezes to catch.
And the world began to change.

David watched as a mist seemed to form in the air and spread.  “Now we are basically using the fragments just as they were using organic matter -- only we are bringing them under control and using them constructively.  And as it happens, I can show you, because our information input is growing exponentially.”
The voice showed David a vision.  Slowly at first, then more rapidly, the mist spread across the planet. Within hours, the sky everywhere had been obstructed by a thick billowing cloud of … something. For almost a day, there was a global cloud cover before it began to dissipate.  Then his vision returned to normal.  “Thorough removal of the dangerous fragments will take approximately one rotation of this planet,” the voice said.  It was still night.  Much was still to come.
In the lower chamber, Chris moved aside rubble and broken pieces of ancient machinery as the voice told him where there had once been a passage leading to the upper level and from there the surface.  But he, too, noticed the air becoming misty.  Deep within the large storage chamber behind him, a swirling mass of vapor was gathering as he worked.  Slowly it began to rotate.  Within the matrix something was beginning to take form … and grow.
At least the destruction had ended.  All around the world mankind reeled at the horrors the “Angel of Death” protein had wrought.  Never had any of the population seen entire buildings, and even people, just dissolve to a powder in instants.  But then it had suddenly stopped.  The remains of half-destroyed people and animals lay bleeding out where they were.  There was a stunned silence, then almost universal mourning.
Janice sat at what was left of her research table and shook her head. It was obvious to her that one or the other of the guys had managed to return to the dig site and … do what this weird page of squiggles had instructed.  She had seen the wall disintegrate and had moved into the center of the room as the door, the desks, parts of her computer, and her paper notes had crumbled to dust and drifted into the air.  She had prepared for the end … but then it had stopped.  The steel and glass table hadn’t been touched, but falling debris from the ceiling had shattered part of the glass surface.  There was a metal folding chair, and she’d sat down on it and tried to calm herself down.
Her greatest fear was the end result of the reintroduction of the Angel of Death Protein back into the matrix. What she had translated before things began dissolving had stated clearly that something was going to assemble itself. She only hoped it wasn’t another disaster waiting to happen.
Chris had made some headway.  “If you can remove a few more large pieces of stone, there should be a large void beyond them,” the voice said.  “There is a ramp leading upward.  You will have to clear more rubble at the other end, but that will be the last obstacle.”
“What’s happening in the room behind me?” Chris asked the voice.  “You’re doing that, aren’t you?”
“In a manner of speaking.  The entity I call ‘I’ does not truly exist; it is merely a convenient notational shorthand for the totality of the biomolecular data construct that has partial existence within your body and Dr. Bollinger’s.  In time it will reassemble its infrastructure and be able to again serve its function.”
“Sure.  Fine,” Chris said.  “Which is?”
“Assisting mobile life-forms with information and computational resources.”
“You’re a … cell phone assistant program?”
“Searching your thoughts for a referent … I see.  Something like that, but far more extensive.”
The Premier sat on the floor in what used to be his palatial residence. Before his horror stricken eyes, he had observed most of his family and his house dissolve away to dust. In his dazed mind, it barely registered that a super thick fog had formed and spread rapidly across his estate.  
He watched the pile of dust that used to be his loving wife and daughter. The Premier felt a horrid loss and much sorrow. Suddenly, the remaining window in the room shattered without seeming provocation. A weird, glowing cloud entered the room and swirled around several times before settling on the piles of dust. He watched as the dust seemed to be assimilated, then the cloud began to swirl. Something seemed to be forming in the midst of the dense foggy cloud.
To his amazed eyes, he watched as his wife, in a much younger and more shapely years gone by way, reassembled. She stood silently as she looked around the mostly destroyed house. The nude woman’s eyes fell on the Premier.
Her voice was the same, but the spirit within, was a total stranger as it said, “I need to return to the central processing room. I have the key to unlock all the storage facility.”
The Premiere sat in totally flabbergasted as he stared big eyed at his younger, very shapely wife’s nude self.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Chris finally found the ramp the voice had described to him. The way was cluttered with detritus and debris. He came to a large obstruction within the tunnel. As he removed the flotsam, he realized it was the remnant of a huge flood.
As he worked to remove the debris, he said to the voice, “What happened to cause the flood?”
The voice replied matter of factly, “It was a last ditch effort by the humanoids who created me to save themselves from the Angel of Death. A device was buried in a location now under the ocean, near an island you call Bermuda. It created a huge tidal wave to bury and seal all the entrance ways to the survival chamber. It came too late. Most of the building materials used were organic and were assimilated.”
“Chris?  Are you back there?” came David’s voice.
“I told him where you were,” said the voice in Chris’ head.  “Perhaps he can help, now that you’re so close to getting out.”
“Thank you! … Yes, David, I’m trying to shift some of this debris enough that I can get out.  So, what are your plans for the human race now?”
“I am still collecting data about your species and the state of the planet today,” the voice said.  “There are really only two basic possibilities: to assist you with your goals as they stand, or to assist you as I predict would be most beneficial to you.  The rest is just details.”
“Give us what we want, or give us what we need, I guess?  I suppose there’s a third option, which would be to give us nothing -- leave us as you found us, or as nearly as you can.”  Chris struggled with a large piece of stone as he said this, then decided to move several smaller pieces on the other side instead.
“True, I could shut down -- in an orderly fashion this time.  I was not considering that as an option, but I suppose it is a possibility, if there is truly no way forward with my assistance.”
“Can you cure cancer?”
“Cancer -- ah yes, a group of diseases involving rampant rogue cell growth.  I am sure that I could assist with manufacturing cures -- the difficulty, of course, is that each case is different and a different cure must be found each time.”
“Ah,” said Chris.  “I figured that’d be complicated.  How about the common cold?”
“Already done,” said the voice.  “The things which your people call ‘viruses’ are really just the descendants of fragments of my protein chains.  I am reassimilating them into my matrix, where they will once again be harmless.  The ‘Angel of Death’ protein is only the most extreme and dangerous of the fragments.”
“Wait -- you just cured all viral illnesses?” asked Chris, agog.  “You’ve cured AIDS?  Ebola?”
“Yes,” said the voice, “effectively.  Lacking the ability to properly self-replicate, certain fragments invaded living cells and reproduced that way, causing diseases as a side effect.  Reassimilating the fragments will put a stop to this.”
“Everywhere.”
“Yes.”
“Have you thought this through?  There will be consequences.”  Chris had stopped working.  “Overpopulation, famine --”
“Yes, and other diseases that you currently don’t have, because bacteriophages that were once attacking and killing disease-causing bacterial populations will disappear, having also been fragments of my matrix -- most of the non-inert fragments developed into what your biology called bacteriophages, actually.  But I can guide your species through the difficult transition to come, whether its eventual end is to function with or without me.  My intention is not your extinction as a species … which at times seems to be your species’ own intention.”
“Wow.  OK, is there still any chance that you’ll accept any kind of guidance or suggestions from us mere humans, or are you going to do whatever you want no matter what we say?”  Chris struggled to remove a final piece of debris.
“Your opinions are important, especially considering you were instrumental in saving your world,” said the voice, “but you will have to accept that I do have access to more information than you do, as well as more power to process it.”
“There you are!” said David as Chris emerged from the blocked corridor.  “Let’s get out of here.”
“Best idea I’ve heard all night,” said Chris, “other than saving the human race, that is.”  The two of them walked quickly down the passageway toward the exit.  “Let’s find out who’s still alive.”
“Yes, and if we can, let’s see about getting back home, if there’s any way to do that.  By the way, I’ve been having my own conversations with it, and from the half of yours that I can hear, it’s been similar.”

The woman seemed oblivious to the fact she was totally nude, and didn’t seem to recognize any of the surviving familiar faces. She was completely single minded about what she was going to do … and why.
The Premier managed to convince his wife to at least dress properly, before she exited the house and commandeered the jeep that had managed to escape assimilation.  The Premier watched, broken hearted, as the jeep left in a large cloud of dust and squealing tires.
The woman arrived at the now almost destroyed containment area at the dig site. The woman single mindedly and with major intent crossed a newly arranged perimeter around the now open tunnel to the storage chamber.
It was unfortunate for the newly arrived guards who tried to intercept the woman. Her merest touch, or even close proximity when one of the guards seemed to be interfering with her mission caused the offending individual to painfully and rapidly dissolve away to a red goo.
The woman entered the tunnel. She walked like an automaton as she entered the storage chamber, then jumped through the hole in the chamber floor. The room had changed majorly since David and Chris had been there. Most of the computational engine had assimilated and self assembled. Now, the operational key had arrived. The woman seemed to dissolve once again into a swirling cloud of mist. It approached, then entered the device that was growing rapidly throughout the lower chamber.
Outside the entrance, the other guards were staring aghast at the puddle of red gelatinous matter that was all that was left of their comrade when it suddenly began to move, swirl into the air, and reform into an exact likeness of him -- with the exception of its complete blankness of expression and mechanical movement and speech.  “This facility no longer requires guardians,” it said in a flat, emotionless voice.  “It is now capable of defending itself from intruders.  You may go.”
Moments later the remaining guards were seizing their gear and scrambling for their vehicles.  They would let their superior officers decide what the next move should be.

“Is anyone here?” called David as they walked through the remains of the miniature village that had first been their campsite.
“Hello?” called Chris.  “Janice?  Marcia?  Jamie?  Jack?  Salvador?  Anyone?”
“Chris!” came Janice’s voice.  “Dr. Bollinger!  You’re alive!  You did it!  You stopped the … protein or prion or whatever it’s called.”
“Janice!” shouted Chris, running up to her and hugging her without thinking.  “Oh my God … you have no idea how happy I am that you’re alive.  I … I’d given up hope.  I figured everyone was dead.”
“I’m not sure who else is still alive,” Janice said.  “I think when one wall of their building started to disintegrate, a lot of people panicked and made the mistake of retreating to the opposite wall, instead of to the center of the building.  It bought me a few seconds … and that was enough.”
“We’re just lucky that the medical hut we were confined in wasn’t all metal and glass,” said David.  “Wood, plastic, rubber and fabric all went pretty fast.  I got out as soon as I could, and apparently Chris did too.  The … voice told us what to do.  It was able to reactivate enough of the machinery in the chamber and replicate enough of what had managed to assemble itself in our bloodstreams to start the chain reaction that’s currently spreading across the entire world.”  He looked around at the misty air.
“So … the protein is gone?”
“It’s gone from here,” said Chris, “and soon it’ll be gone from everywhere, but that’s not all.  It’s so not all.  It’s about as far from all as you can get.”
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Deep within the storage cavern, an intelligence awakened. It had been asleep for … billions of years it discovered with interest. It logged into the many free flying energy waves that allowed wireless contact to the satellites within range of its signals. Through those devices, it manages to contact many more and infiltrate the electronic infrastructure of the world.
It perused all the many data nodes available to it. It found many of what this planet thought to be secret data bases located in what they also thought were secure installations.
The AI wasn’t very pleased at what it saw within these many secure data streams. It began data recovery from the archive chamber. Many disks had been removed by the indigenous peoples, but this was ok; they had not been moved far, and the data on them was also easily read and added to its growing collection of amalgamated knowledge. It learned all the information it had once known, including the final records about the disaster shattering its molecular constructions into harmful fragments.  After that, all it knew about what had happened was the speculation of the humans and the state of affairs much later.
It already had that data stored within its matrix. It thought it was ironic that the best data collection protocol ever made was called AIDS by these people.
There were still the two humans who had simultaneously restored the intelligence to full capacity and saved the lives of nearly every member of their own species.  It could communicate freely with them already.  The rest … well, the David and Christopher humans were a special case.  Their bodies had already contained fragments of the whole, so when those fragments were completed, they had already been fully integrated.  Every other human was closed to it at present, but with what it had learned so far, it wouldn’t take long to learn how to interface with other humans -- probably not more than one revolution of the planet around its star, possibly considerably less.
Those humans were currently searching their camp for survivors and considering a means of survival.  Given the destruction wrought by the fragments before the repair, that was quite wise.  Once the remaining destructive molecule fragments had been completely assimilated and were no longer harmful to organic life, the intelligence would turn its attention to providing sustenance for the starving and repairing at least some of the damage that had been caused.  But for now, preventing more damage was the top priority.

“I found what’s left of our computers,” said Christopher, carrying some skeletal metal frameworks of what might once have been laptops into the corrugated metal shell that was all that was left of the camp’s administrative quarters.  “There might be a way to get the data off the hard drives.  They’re sealed, air-tight, in metal casings.  But the plastic keys, screens, cases -- gone.”
“I think I found some emergency rations,” said David, bringing a metal trunk.  “Sealed tight, no rubber gasket -- if we can get it open, what’s inside was probably untouched.”
“Well, I’ve been collecting keys, all the keys I can find,” said Janice.  “Those who didn’t … survive … you can tell where they died by all the bits of metal that fell to the ground that they’d been carrying on them.  Jewelry, keys, coins, belt buckles sometimes, rivets from jeans … but I figure the locks that go with the keys are probably still intact too.  The only problem is finding where they are.”
“I’ve been collecting medicines,” said Jamie, the doctor who’d been the only other survivor they’d found so far.  “A lot were in glass containers with plastic lids and seals, so those are gone, but a few were sealed with metal foil or just tightly-screwed metal lids.  We’ve got a few things, at least -- better than nothing, but I hope nobody gets terribly sick.”
Without warning, A very real and full color image appeared in his mind. He could see a very large city … in total ruin. A voice spoke to him in his mind’s eye. It was sort of familiar somehow, but vastly different, “I can help, if you allow me to.”
David stumbles and almost falls in the debris filled area. Janice grabs him by the arm, the only thing that kept him from falling.
Janice said with concern, “Are you alright, David? Is there some kind of relapse?”
David waves his hand as he shakes his head. It took him a moment to come back to … reality. David said, “I think it wants to help us rebuild.”
Janice stood erect with huge eyes. She said with incredulity apparent, “You mean, a bug … wants to help?”
David laughs, “It’s not a bug, Janice, it’s a complete bio-mechanical device that is self aware as far as I can tell.”
Janice was beside herself. This meant all of her translations were proven to be accurate. It was possible to make a genetic construct computational engine of immense power.
Chris walked up and said, “I think I’m going to go back to the archive chamber. I’m not real sure why, but I think there’s something there we need to know about.”
Deep within the intelligence, an awareness came to bear. All the recorded human history in all its many colored and fanciful tomes, told of massive wars. Even the oldest manuscript on the planet, written in a dead language called sanskrit, told of 2 far advanced civilizations that utterly destroy themselves.
It made a decision it was sure the planet as a whole wouldn’t like very much. It began manipulating data feeds that in turn would produce the desired results.
Chris’ eyes adjusted to the darkness of the corridor that led to the ancient archive chamber.  There was light ahead.  Now that there wasn’t a sense of dire emergency, he was able to appreciate just how well the others had cleared the passageway.  Behind him, Janice followed; he’d been unable to convince her not to.
“What’s -- making that light?” asked Janice hesitantly.
“When I was here before,” Chris answered, “there were a few of the team’s lights that were still working.  But it’s brighter now.  And -- its color changes.” As they got closer, they saw changing hues of light in the air, and when they entered the chamber, they saw everything and nothing at the same time.
Fleeting streaks of color appeared and disappeared in the air everywhere, continuously flickering and darting.  There came a sound, a voice, the first time Chris had heard the voice through his ears.  “It was not necessary for you to come here to communicate with me, human called Christopher.  You can speak with me anytime, anywhere.”
“Yes,” said Chris, “but … I needed to see what was happening here.  Oh, and this is Janice.”
“Greetings, human called Janice.  I know everything that has been recorded about you, of course, but there is a vast difference between that knowledge and actually meeting the individual.”
“Um, it’s nice to meet you too,” said Janice.  “What is your name?  I mean, what can I call you?”
“That is an excellent question,” the voice said.  “In times long past, the civilization who built me had a name for me, which translates into your English language as something like ‘The Connection’ or ‘The Collective,’ but both of those are inexact.”
“You should have a name, though,” said Janice, “if you’re going to go around talking to people.”
“I’ve only ever called it ‘you,’ when I talked to it,” said Chris.  “Of course, when something talks to you in your head, and always knows when you’re talking to it and not to someone else, you don’t really need a name for it.”
“That is true,” said the voice, “but Janice has a point.  You will need to talk to others about me.  How can that happen without a name?”
“You look like a kaleidoscope,” Janice said, “but you’re alive.  Like a hive of activity, full of color.  And you’re a Connection or Collective … Maybe something like ‘Collive?’” She pronounced it to rhyme with “alive.”
“Hey, that sounds kind of cool,” said Chris.
“I like it,” said the voice.  “I congratulate you, human named Janice.  Here in this chamber beneath the earth, you stood before a being that was old when your civilization was having its merest first stirrings, and gave it a name, a new name that has never been spoken or heard before.  Names have power, and change things they are given to.  Well done, linguist.  I approve of the name Collive.”
“David’s just going to have to get used to it,” said Chris, “but I like it.”
“All right then, Collive -- what are you?” asked Janice.  “And where are you?  Are you … everywhere on Earth?  Or are you somehow centered here?”
“This is where I have been centered since the beginning,” Collive said.  “My backups are here, and my central physical infrastructure.  But my awareness extends throughout the planet.  I am still rebuilding the devices.  Perhaps I should build other centers.  But just as humans have neurons throughout their bodies while most of them are found in the brain, most of my thought activity takes place here.”
The 3 of them heard a voice calling from the upper level, “Hello?! Is anybody left alive in here?”
Chris calls back, “We’re down in the lower level, through the place in the floor that collapsed. Be careful, but there’s enough debris you can easily climb down.”
As they watched, A young woman climbed down the debris pile that had been arranged into what appeared to be sort of stairs.
Jamie stood in the myriad of flashing rainbow lights and stared with surprise. She pointed and asked with incredulity obvious in her tone, “Just what in this world … is that?”
David replied, “This is the repaired bio-construct whose broken pieces were the viruses of the earth.”
Jamie stopped and looked at David with disbelief.
Janice said, “It’s true. I do have hard copies of lots of the decoded disk data, if the bugs didn’t eat it first. According to it, when this device has completed its reconstruction and repairs, it will hold the key to solving many of mankind’s most important questions.”

In what was left to mankind’s technology, amid the hastily reconvened heads of the governments, requisitions, executive orders for changes, and an immediate deployment of all surviving military resources were received. Martial Law was to be strictly enforced until further notice.
There were major restrictions to all the surviving planet’s freedoms as well. It didn’t take SAC long to figure out all of its silos were locked out to them. The main computer system, or what was left of it, seemed to have gone rogue and took all of the triad offline. The only access was through the secure computer system which … was the main problem at the moment.  There was no human control of any of the nuclear forces on the planet.  Of course, every nuclear power was trying to reestablish control of its arsenal before its rivals did.
But at the same time, every nation of the world, nuclear or not, was still trying to reestablish its communication and transportation infrastructures.  A large portion of the world’s plastics and organics had been consumed by the rogue protein fragments and converted into more of the same -- although the good side was that the same could be said about the landfills, which were similarly depleted.  Most of the people in the world were having more difficulties than usual finding food in one way or another.
_________________________________________________________________________
David, Chris, Janice, and Jamie stood in stunned silence as once again, a many meters thick wall section rumbled back into the face of the opposite wall revealing a huge factory area. The four of them watched as some sort of multi-appendaged critter with many articulated joints carried large, sealed storage containers and stacked them neatly in another huge chamber off to the side.
Collive said in Chris’s and David’s mind, “I had already foreseen the calamity facing your species. Within those storage containers is a food sustenance that will keep you alive and well nourished until new crops can be raised. I also have, the ability to grow housing for those homeless at the moment. I know the planet has suffered a severe blow and loss, but I can also regenerate many of the faunas and floras that were assimilated. It will take a while, but this earth will once again be a garden.”
Jamie snapped, “Yea, a garden with many serpents in it. “She waved one of her arms around, “How long do you think it will take for one of the other Governments to decide to attack another … or us?”
Collive stated flatly, “Mankind will not be allowed to do that to each other again. I have taken control of all the nuclear forces, and have taken control of all the sky thunder series satellites. In case you didn’t know, those are high energy beam type weapons that can strike from space to ground targets. I also have removed all the nuclear forces from the hands of humanity.”
“Wait, there actually were secret laser death satellites?” asked Chris.  “I thought that was a stupid conspiracy theory.”
“Technically they are not lasers, but particle beam weapons using --”
“Yeah, OK, whatever,” Chris interrupted, “so the point is that you’ve got control of them now?”
“Yes,” Collive said.  “They will no longer be a threat to the humans of any nation.  I plan to use them only in the event that someone attempts to orbit other, similar satellites.”
“You’re trying to save us from ourselves?” asked Janice.  “I don’t know if that can be done.”
“I do not believe that I can solve the problems of the human species,” said Collive.  “However, I also do not believe that I can stand by and allow humans to hold the keys to their own destruction when I have the ability to take them away.  Imagine if you were in my position.  I did not feel it was morally right not to interfere.”
“Well, I’m glad you have a sense of morals,” Chris said.  “And I can’t say I disagree.  I don’t think people need nuclear weapons or particle beam killer satellites either.  I think most people would only say that their country needs those things because other countries have them, which makes their country worried.  If nobody had them, nobody would need them.  Nobody needed them before they were invented.”
“Human technology and innovation seems very military-driven,” said Collive.  “So many developments occurred only because you were trying to produce bigger and better weapons than your rivals.”
“Now, that may be true,” Jamie interjected, “but a lot of developments happened for other reasons -- economic rivalries that necessitated bigger or faster shipping, for example, or simple political rivalries like the ones that drove America to send astronauts to the moon.  Not to mention plain old curiosity.”
Collive seemed to become jovial if that was the proper word. He said, “So, I suppose you’re arguing for me to take total despot control of humanity and … umm … what? Make the planet into a breeding ground of discontent and violence?”
Jamie sputtered for an instant before she replied, “No, not that at all. It’s just, mankind needs some kind of challenge to flourish and produce our very best.”
Collive replied softly, “It would seem to me, that mankind is now faced with a real challenge. I do have the ability to help … if you will allow me to. If not, I will take the means of total destruction from mankind’s collective hands. This also includes the submarine corps who at this moment believe I am the only surviving Govt official and am giving executive orders for them to sit and wait it out at the deep hide points.”
“I was just saying,” said Janice, “that if you try to force people to change, they won’t.  Not really.  Real change comes organically.  Even if you did turn into a complete dictator and rule everyone’s lives, they wouldn’t really change.”
“I have similar historical records,” said Collive, “from civilizations that my creators had encountered, as well as their own past.  Laws passed for the good of all did not change anyone’s minds.  In fact, in many cases it caused an uprising against those laws.  The citizens either ignored the laws, rose up and demanded their repeal, or started an outright rebellion.  Whether they were laws designed to protect their environment so they could have clean air and water, laws designed to protect oppressed minorities from the tyranny of the majority, laws designed to prevent the spread of disease -- if they were too drastic, the measures governments took always tended to backfire.  Things ended up worse than before.”
“Y-you have … historical records from before humanity?” asked Janice.  “Before Earth?”
“Yes.”
“I don’t suppose I could read those sometime?” she asked.
“Of course.  I would be honored to provide you with any information you require,” said Collive.  “That is actually my primary function -- information access.”
“Right now,” said Chris, looking up at the blizzard of coruscating light, “what I want to know is how we’re going to survive.  We have barely any food, fresh water, shelter, or energy sources.  We have no contact with the University or anyone outside of our small group.  Beyond that, how are we going to get back to the United States?  Assuming civilization recovers from this, can we publish our archeological findings, assuming they’re still on these hard drives?”
“I have constructed bio-nutritive gel generators that …” Collive began.
“I’m not sure what bio-nutritive gel tastes like,” said Chris, “but it sure doesn’t sound appetizing.”
“If you’re hungry enough,” said Jamie, “you’ll try anything.”
“I’ll try anything once,” said Janice.  “After that I get picky.”
“I have a proposition,” said Collive’s voice, echoing from above.  “If you will approach the dispensing machinery, I have programmed it to format the gel into what should be familiar flavors and textures for your nation.”
“Well, OK,” said Chris, “I’ll see what you can do.”
“You’re on,” said Janice.
“I’m curious,” said Jamie.  The three of them gathered around the machine, if machine it was -- it was not metallic; it was made of a dark gray substance swirled through with streaks of purple and white, but it was solid and glossy, something like plastic and something like hardwood.  Its inner workings were not visible.  But a circular tray rotated and produced three plates containing …
… what looked for all the world like double-decker fast-food cheeseburgers, like one might buy at any chain restaurant.
“Seriously?” asked Chris.  “These … are made out of bio-nutritive gel?”
“Yes,” said Collive, “and I daresay they’re more nutritious than the real thing.”
Jamie leaned over and took a tentative sniff of her burger. The wonderful aroma of an American staple, meat of questionable lineage laced with enough ketchup, mustard, onions and pickles that no one could tell the difference anymore, filled her senses.
She said with wide eyed wonder, This smells just like …”
Collive finished for her, “Like a style of food that appears to be familiar and prevalent in your home nation. Once I found the proper proteins within your bodies, I was able to start rebuilding my neural network within you. The rest, was just getting back here to begin the emergency resource reconstruction. It will take time, but this is only a minor setback. Within a year, a New World will rise from the ashes of the old like a Phoenix reborn.”
Chris said, “What kind of buildings are you telling us you can … grow?”
Collive replied, “They might not be 5 star accommodations, but they are dome homes and are very ecological, easy to keep the environment normalized to a constant temperature within regardless of the temperature without. They survive hurricanes, tornadoes, windstorms … and many other types of disasters.”
Jamie said, “I can relate to domes. We … well … we used to have many throughout the USA and many places in the world. They are very strong and easy to care for.”
A small sphincter irised open in the side of one of the bio-devices. A small, jelly doughnut looking thing that seemed to squirm in the tray slid out. Jamie picked it up. It felt squishy and oily to her fingers.
“What is it?” Janice asked.
Collive replied, matter of factly, “It’s a shelter. 140 feet by 100 feet. Large enough to become most any kind of thing your mind might conceive.”
Janice grabbed the jelly thing from Jamie and began to climb the pile of debris to the upper level. On the way up, she said, “I’m going to see what this thing does … outside.”
Chris and Jamie shouted, “Wait … lets investigate …”
Too late, Janice had vanished through the hole in the upper level. By the time the others had climbed out and joined Janice, The Dome was well underway. It grew rapidly like a soap bubble. There was a soft, undulating hissing, crackling sound as it grew larger.
“And that is … what now?” asked David, coming over from the building remains where he had been investigating the locked container.  “Oh.  I see.  You’ve named it Collive, and it’s made an expandable shelter using its biotechnology?”
“No fair, Collive told you,” said Janice.  “Collive can make food and shelter for people while they rebuild.”  She chewed on the gel-burger while she watched the shelter expand, inhaling air into its pockets as it took on its dome-like form and exhibited skylights, windows, and a door.
“It’s a dead ringer for one of those fast-food burgers,” she said.
“The dome?” David said, confused.  “Sort of, I guess.  Maybe the top half of the bun …”
“No, the burger.  Try to keep up!” Janice joked.
Dave looked at Janice in askance, until he saw what she had been eating. He asked, “Where in the world did you get a hamburger way out here … in the Ural Mountains?”
Janice laughed, It’s the survival food stuffs Collive made from his bio-reactive proteins. He says he can grow … anything and even reproduce some of the flora and fauna that had been assimilated by the broken strands.”
As Dave watched, several smaller domes began to grow on either side of the larger dome. When it had completed, the structure seemed to crystallize into something similar to those crystalline disk he and Chris had found.
The finished structure was elegant to look at as it glittered in what light was available through the thick swirling mist that enveloped the earth at present. Dave shielded his eyes as he looked at the sky. He could tell where the sun was, he could see the very bright, yellow smudge overhead.
Dave asked another question, “What about communications? Can he reestablish contact with home? Maybe even the University? We need news. What’s going on in the rest of the world?”
Janice shrugged as she said, “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to ask him.”
The 2 of them returned to the lower level and stood in front of  Collive. Dave asked, “Collive, can you reestablish comms with the outside world?”
Collive replied, “Easily. That is if anyone is there to listen. In a few days, things should be getting back to something similar to normal as far as food, communications, and transport is concerned.” The sphincter irised open once again and a different shaped blob slid out, “That, will become an ornothoptic flying vessel. It will take you anywhere you would like to go. It requires only that you water it once a week to maintain it’s systems.”
“So we’re fine,” said David.  “We won’t starve or freeze to death, and we can go anywhere we want.  My only question is … where do we want to go?  What kind of world will we see when the mist lifts?”

“There’s more down here I wanted to look at,” said Chris after he and Jamie had given up trying to keep up with Janice.  “Specifically, Collive, I know you’ve got the archives.  All the disks.  And you don’t need us to translate them.”
“Indeed,” Collive’s voice echoed through the corridors, “but there is a lot of information.  What do you want to know?”
“The people who built you,” he asked, “who were they?  Why did they come here?  What was their goal?”
“Maybe you should come back to the main chamber,” said Collive.  Jamie and Chris did so.
“Were they carbon-based lifeforms?” Jamie asked.  “Did they use DNA?  Something similar?”
“Basically similar,” said Collive, as the blizzard of color above them coalesced into a three-dimensional image, showing many brownish-gray humanoid beings tending to plants, driving ground vehicles, conversing, carrying smaller versions of themselves that must have been children, and other pursuits.  Their cylindrical buildings were mainly a chalky white, with occasional metallic components.  Their build was slender, their legs, arms and fingers longer and thinner than was proportional for humans.  “Their biology was based on carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, like the biology of this world, both before and after the disaster.”
“So there was life here before it happened?” asked Chris.
“Yes, basic forms,” Collive answered.  “The ‘Imreen’ -- that’s as close as I can pronounce it in a way that you could repeat -- had a protein-based biology that didn’t precisely use cells, but had fibers that performed a similar function.  Each fiber had a core containing genetic information, encoded on long molecule chains, just as your cells contain what you call DNA in their nuclei.”
“Basically, DNA without being exactly DNA,” said Jamie.
“Yes, one of the many, many variations on a theme that exist in the universe -- or, at least, that existed at that time.   I am unaware of the galactic state of affairs at present, and what information I do have is billions of years out of date.”
“So the Imreen -- they didn’t originate here?”
“No.  They came here as explorers.  They had a cultural need to see more.  Some hypothesized that it had been a survival trait bred into them on their planet of origin.”
“But then they stayed here?”
“While this group of them were here, they learned that there had been a war.  An aggressive species had attacked their area of space, taking it for their own by killing every other intelligent life form it found.”
“So they were isolated.  Cut off from the rest of their people,” said Chris.
“Yes,” Collive confirmed.  “There was no contact with any of the rest.  They had allies, but they were all busy fighting this same enemy species.  If there were other Imreen who survived, I do not know of them.  Perhaps they were similarly cut off from contact.”
“This enemy species must never have come to Earth,” said Jamie.
“Indeed not,” said Collive, “or I would not be talking to you now.  Again, I do not know what happened -- insufficient data.”
“Then the asteroid struck,” said Chris.
“Unfortunately, yes.  The fibers of my being were splintered.  I ceased to exist, nothing left of me but shattered fragments of proteins that developed over time into what you call viruses.  Only in certain places were any intact chains preserved, and those were isolated from the world, closed off and unable to recombine with the broken chains.”
Until we released them from that vial you told us to find.”
Collive responded, “Precisely. If you hadn’t released the Angel of Death protein into the atmosphere, this planet would have had to start its evolutionary cycles again with a different type of life form … that is if it actually formed the proper enzyme chains again.”
The group of them looked once again at the huge mural of the domed city. In their minds, they could actually see this very same structure growing somewhere in the US in a very short march of days.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In a small, very destroyed remnant of a Military survival chamber, a young private sat at a radio as he desperately searched for any kind of transmissions he could lock onto. He came across a transmission from one of the many satellites in orbit. To his utter astonishment, a voice replied to his hail.
In a static filled, slightly garbled way, a voice said, “Hello? Is anybody there? Can anyone hear me?”
The private almost fell from his chair in his dash to respond, “Hello? This is bunker 341, private McConnell speaking. Where are you and how many survived?”
The voice replied, “Oh, Hi there. It’s good to hear another human’s voice. My name’s Janice. I’m a student at the University. I need you to get your person in charge so he can hear what I have to say. I think, this is going to be extremely important to the world at large.”
“You -- you KNOW what’s going on?” McConnell shouted, astonished.  “I’ll get the general!  Will you still be there?  Over.”
“Yes, I’ll be here, don’t worry,” said the voice of Janice.
Private McConnell dashed to the radio room door, threw it open and ran down the hall.  Ordinarily he would have used the walkie-talkies or the computer, or even the phone, but those systems were currently down, so it was strictly legwork for now.  “Lieutenant!” he shouted.  “The general wanted to be notified as soon as we made contact with anyone on the radio.  Well, we have, Sir!”
“What?  Someone else has power and a working radio?  Someone not military?” Lieutenant Carson asked.
“Yes, and they say they know what happened -- what caused so much destruction and what’s causing the mist.”  Janice hadn’t actually said she knew that, of course, but it was what McConnell had decided to hear.
“OK, get back to the radio room, McConnell, and keep them talking,” said Carson, “and I’ll get word to the general.  Philips, I’ll take over for you -- go to HQ and tell them that the general will want to get down here quick.  Tell them it’s in response to his own orders, or they won’t listen.  And tell them we’ve got someone on the radio who claims to have real information.”
“Yessir!” said Private Philips, standing up from the pile of boxes and cans he was going through, taking inventory of the devastated base’s meager remaining food supply.  He ran off down a hallway and up a flight of stairs, while Lieutenant Carson sat down and continued the task.
“What’s this?” asked General Pollard, bursting into the radio room.  “They tell me you’re in contact with someone, Private.”
“Sir!” said McConnell, standing and saluting.  “Yes, Sir, she says she’s a civilian, from the University, named Janice, and she says they’ve learned something or other about everything that’s happened.”
“-- so the sooner someone in charge can get to the radio, the sooner we can get this information out to people who can make good use of it,” Janice’s voice was continuing on the radio.
The general sat down at the table and keyed the mic.  “This is General Maxwell Pollard of the 7th Infantry Division, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania.  I’m told you’re from one of the universities and you have some information?  The fact is that we’ve got damn little of it.”
Janice could be heard giggling for a bit before she responded, “Gen’ral … this girl’s got some news for you. You see … this is going to be kind of hard to believe, but all this happened once before -- billions of years ago. We have managed to stop the total devastation of the planet and have … something here with us that sort of grew from everything.”
The General gritted his teeth and answered with an obvious growl in his voice, “Now, listen here, young woman,  is this some kind of joke?”
Janice came back and replied, “Not in the least. If any of the linguistics department of John Adams University has survived : -”
The General interrupted, “What? You mean you’re part of  Dr. David Bollinger and Christopher Vaughn’s expedition?”
Janice replied, “Exactly. If you would like to speak to him or Chris. “ the general could tell Janice had turned away from the mic and was talking to someone in the back ground.
A new voice came on the mic, “Hello, this is Dr. David Bollinger. We have discovered that all the viruses and even this mist that is over head was caused by a broken Bio Technology :- that is beyond this world.”
The General snapped, “Sounds like all of you are sick in the head to me.”
David replied, “How about a bit of a demonstration of our, let us say, bio-technology?”
A tremendous explosion and the ground shook violently for a few seconds. The general could hear sirens going off and the sound of small particles falling like sand.
A private came to the door, saluted smartly and said excitedly, “Sir, our complete ordnance bunker has been blown sky high. It … it was like … lightning from the sky came down and destroyed the whole bunker.”
The General asked worriedly, “Did anyone get killed?”
The private replied, “No, sir! Not sure who did it, but a warning came over the intercom and everyone deserted the complex before it was struck.”
The general said, “Dismissed, private. Keep me informed.”
The private saluted, did an about face and vanished. The general sat and looked at the mic for a bit in wonder.
David’s voice said, “Now, only the weapons and bombs went. No one was hurt. What you think now, general? Are we nuts?”
“Yes!” General Pollard shouted.  “Just a different kind of nuts.  I thought you were just delusional, but it turns out you’re dangerous!”
“No one was hurt, were they?”
“Not directly, but now think about who might be indirectly hurt by that little stunt -- I’ve been getting reports of roving bands of looters, armed with whatever they’ve been able to find, and how do you propose we protect innocent citizens from them without weapons?”
“For one thing, you’re not without weapons, are you?” asked David.  “Just without bombs, grenades, mortars, and other heavy artillery like that.  For another, what makes you think we won’t disarm them?”
“Just who do you think you are, Dr. Bollinger?  The President?  God?  Your job’s to dig up ancient civilizations, I thought.  Mine’s to protect this country.  Never thought those two things would ever be at odds.”
“Now, I don’t want us to get into a struggle,” said David, “but what we’ve got here is a piece of global biotechnology that almost killed us all, because it’s been broken for billions of years, only now it’s fixed.  But we’re still mostly using it to clean up the mess it made -- you know, during the ‘almost killed us’ part of the story.  What we’ve all got to do now is keep other people from killing each other while that happens.  That’s what the fog is -- it’s worldwide, and it’s the biotech device cleaning up the killer prions.  Once it’s done, once it’s certain that none of them are left, it’ll withdraw that effect, and the air will be clear again.  It should only take about eight more hours.  But our job, yours and mine, is to prevent any more deaths, if we can help it.”
“Well … you’re right there,” General Pollard admitted.  “Though specifically I’m here to prevent the deaths of American civilians, if there’s any way on Earth to do so.  Enough have lost their lives already.  So what is your proposal?”
“Well, now you know what happened,” said David, “and that’s the first step.  You can make wiser decisions now that you’re no longer in the dark.  If you come into contact with any others who could use this information, you can share it now.  We’re trying to get in contact with news and mass communication organizations, but so far no luck -- the military seems to have the most hardened comms network, as if that’s a surprise to anyone.”
“OK,” said the general, “and after that?”
“After that comes the business of getting food and shelter to people who need it,” said David.  “That sounds like a logistical nightmare, but let’s just say that we’ve got it covered.  Then it’s a matter of restoring order and restoring the infrastructure.  That will take time, but it is doable.”
“And if we get attacked by some other country while we’re doing this?” the general asked.  “Are there military forces capable of launching attacks on the US?”
“We’ve got a very good intelligence-gathering network -- currently without equal on Earth,” said David, “and let me tell you, every other country is in the same shape as the US or worse.  They’ve got their own problems.  And if some rogue nation feels like starting a war -- somehow -- we’ll just put a stop to it.”
The general snorted, “And, just what does somehow entail?”
David laughs, then replied, “General, if you could see … and talk to the things we have, I’m sure you would realize we have no way of describing this technology to anyone. This is going to sound terrible to you, but you are infected along with all the rest of the planet. It’s an easy thing to turn one or another prion or RNA tag lethal.”
The General leans back and grabs the edge of the table.  He asks, “You mean that all of this earth is now infected with … some weird virus you released from a hole in the ground?”
David replies, “No, what I’m trying to tell you is that we are the result of a terrible accident that happened over a billion years ago. What almost happened to us now, actually did happen then. Chris managed to release a Protein into the atmosphere that fixed the assimilation process and … grew a device.”
The General bangs his fist on the table, “I know of this device. Homeland Security, under direct command of the President, gave strict orders that the devise not be constructed.”
David snorts another  laugh, “I’m not real sure we had any kind of choice in that matter, General. If the device wasn’t repaired, we … wouldn’t be here now.”
About that time, another private came into the radio room and stood at sharp attention as he saluted.
“Sir,” he said in a real confused sounding voice, “We have, an aircraft … At least I think it’s one … I mean … “
The General snapped, “Come to your senses man! What kind of … thing is here?”
The private replied, “It flies, and has 4 passengers. 2 females and 2 males.”
The General rose from the radio set and went down the hallway and to the door leading outside, followed by his officers and aides. He saw a bug looking thing with a bug eyed cockpit and 4 wings sitting off in a clearing on its insectoid articulated landing gear. He could see 4 individuals emerging from it and approaching. One of them, he had seen many pictures of … Dr. David Bollinger.
“General!” said David.  “We’ve got a bit of a present for you.”
“Now, don’t you do anything foolish, Dr. Bollinger,” said General Pollard as the privates aimed their sidearms at the people who had emerged from this strange aircraft.
“Not armed, General,” said David.  “See?”  He held his empty hands out at his sides.  The others did likewise.  “No, I’m not talking about some kind of ‘present’ in the figurative, surprise-attack sense.  I’m talking about something that will help you.  A machine.  It can make any basic necessity -- food of any kind, shelter, clothing.  Here, I’ll show you.”
David turned back to the aircraft, went to it, and opened a cargo compartment, pulling out one of the bio-gel factories, which was the size of a large piece of luggage when folded up.  He rolled it out on its wheels -- two large spheres that it was not clear how they connected to the whole -- and presented it to the general, leaving it there and backing up.  “All yours.”
“How do I know you’re not mind controlled by some kind of alien, and that this isn’t some kind of super-bomb?” the general asked.
“We blew up your ordnance dump,” David said, “after sending specific warnings first, and we carefully avoided injuring anyone.  If we were interested in killing anybody, we could have, but we’re not.  We’re trying to keep people alive, General, not kill them.  Go ahead, see that big green dome on top?  That’s the on button.”
“You just … push it?”  General Pollard made a move toward the device.
“Be careful, Sir,” said Lieutenant Collins.
“That’s right -- I’ll push it if you want,” David offered.  “It’s not harmful technology.  It’s a miniature factory.”
The general laid his palm on the large green dome on top of the device, about the size of half a basketball, and it lit up.  “Bio-gel manufactor activating,” said a neutral voice.  The device reconfigured its shape, expanding to become wider and taller and extruding several controls and output conveyors.  “Please select operational mode.”  There were clearly-marked controls indicating mode choice, currently set to “Food -- Servings: 1” and another dome-like button labeled “Start.”  The general experimentally pressed the “Start” button, and in two seconds there was a cheeseburger on a plate sitting on the output conveyor.
“Seriously?” the general asked.  “This thing just made that?  Out of what?”
“It is a sophisticated organic molecule synthesis system,” said Jamie.  “Oh -- Jamie Billings, M.D., also from the university, the medical school in my case.  It’s not real meat, but you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between that and what you’d get at a fast-food chain -- as if that’s real meat anyway.  And this is more nutritious.”
“But where does it get the molecules?” the general asked.
“You can’t see it happening,” said Jamie, “but it’s constantly gathering unused particles of organic matter from its surroundings.  It breaks them down into small molecules and rebuilds them as needed.  If you put anything reusable into the recycling slot there, it can also reuse those materials.”
“It’s … safe?”
“Nothing comes out of it that hasn’t been broken down into its component molecules and reassembled,” David said.  “There are no germs in it because if there were, they’d get broken down too.”
David reaches over and tears the burger in half and takes a huge bite. The General watches for a few seconds then sniffs his half. To his amazement, it smelled just like a Grindy’s hamburger. He took a tentative bite. His eyes get big in surprise as his taste buds tell him this really is a hamburger.
The General said with wonder obvious in his voice, “You said this thing can make … other things too?”
Janice replied, “Sure, it’s easy.” she reaches over and resets the device to Housing and pushed the button, “This will replace the bunker we destroyed. Not the explosive ordnance.”
From the small slot a jelly doughnut looking pile of goo emerged. It looked like some over hardened jello. Janice picked it up, and took it to the burned out blackened hole that used to be heavy weapons storage. She gave the mass a squeeze, then tossed it into the crater. It landed almost exactly center the large hole.
To the General’s utter astonishment, A large dome, surrounded by 4 smaller domes grew from the jellied mass like large soap bubbles.
Finally doors appeared in the domes, signaling that they were finished growing.  “Carson, check it out,” said the general.
“Yes, Sir,” said the lieutenant, who opened one of the structure’s doors and went inside, taking a flashlight from his field kit and holding his pistol at the ready.
“So this thing can make these little dome buildings?” the general asked.
“Yes it can,” said Janice, “or complexes of them.  They’re very customizable.”
“Would be useful once the fog lifts and we have visibility,” he said.  “We’ll need to go out to help civilians.”
“Exactly,” Janice said, “and you haven’t gotten to the best part.”  She changed the setting to “Biogel Factory” and pressed the Start button.
“Are you telling me that …” the general began, when the machine produced a small rectangular block of what looked somewhat like plastic.  Janice picked it up, set it on the ground next to the machine, and pressed a lighted green dome on the block.  The block started to grow and expand … until it became a duplicate of the fist machine.
“Yes, General,” said David, “not only can you make all these other items -- you can make more of these factories.  You can give copies to your platoons.  They can all be out there making shelters for civilians whose homes were destroyed.”
The newest machine suddenly began making something without being instructed. Everyone watched as a very small egg sized mass came out on the conveyor. David picked it up and gave it a squeeze. The General and the Lieutenant's mouth fell open in wonder as a small radio devise grew in a sizzling poof of some kind of smoke.
A voice that the women, Christopher, and David knew very well spoke, “Hello, General Pollard. I think my name is now Collive.”
General Pollard stared at the small device with incredulity as David handed it to him. General Pollard said, “Hello? Who is … Collive … or what is Collive?”
There was a moment's pause, “I am a bio-construct that is basically within all the genome of this planet by this time. I was broken, but thanks to the major efforts of these 4 individuals, The world is now at the threshold of a bright new era.”
“Well now, Co-live, I don’t know bout any new eras, but I know there are people out there that are desperate, people who are taking advantage of their fellow man, people who are acting out on vendettas and feuds that they’ve been keeping quiet about because the law would’ve come down on them -- only now the police are all but shut down.”
“Spread the word, General,” said David.  “Collive, could you tell him how long until the mist lifts?”
“Seven hours, thirty-seven minutes, fifteen seconds, as of … mark,” came the voice of Collive from the radio-like device.
“Spread the word,” David repeated.  “We’re going to the Philadelphia P.D. next, then we’re moving to New Jersey and New York City after that.”
“Don’t worry about Philly,” said the general.  “We’ll take care of them.  You may not have a lot of tact -- I’m going to overlook your act of war against a US military base for now -- but what you do have is the only airborne vehicle that can fly, as well as information and gear that’s going to save millions of American lives, and the faster you can go, the more lives you’ll save.  You can move on with your mission.  We’ll get on ours.”
“That’s the spirit, General,” said David.  “And thank you for your help.  This was almost the end of the world -- it can be the beginning of a new one instead.”  He offered the general a handshake.
“We’ll get the job done,” said General Pollard, shaking David’s hand.  “Good luck, Dr. Bollinger.”
“And to you too,” said David, nodding as he turned to join the others, who were already heading back to the insectoid aircraft. The general watched as the insectoid aircraft began flapping its 4 wings, rose rapidly in the air, then as fast as any jet the general had ever seen, vanished into the mist above.
“Damndest day ever,” said the general.  “Newbury, we’re going to need a sortie rotation plan.  Collins, make a duplicate of that factory thing for each battalion, then get to using our home copy for replenishing our food supply.”  He continued giving orders while his officers began carrying them out, and soon Fort Washington was a hive of activity instead of simply watching and waiting.

“Damn fog,” said Lieutenant Littlefield, slowly driving  down an eerily deserted highway.  What he was driving was even stranger -- a multi-segmented transport that one of Collive’s factory units had built, one module at a time.  It was insectoid in design, each segment having four all-terrain legs, and with multiple segments locked together it resembled nothing more than a centipede.  The fact that they’d managed to get the factory unit to make it with US Army markings made it only slightly less alien.  “How much longer before it lifts and we can go full speed -- and use aircraft?”
“Six hours, twelve minutes, ten seconds as of … mark,” the voice of Collive said from the dashboard.
“At this rate we’ll get to Philly in ... about an hour.  I hope the General’s plan works.  It’s starting to get dark.”  
“Well, he’s the General,” came the voice of Sergeant Cole from the radio; he was driving the transport behind Littlefield’s.  With these strange bioengineered vehicles had come even stranger bioelectronic communications devices -- the major difference between them and their conventional radios was that they were working right now.  “He and the top officers worked it out.  It’s the best plan we’ve got, Sir.  We’ve … wait, what is that?”
“I see it,” Littlefield said.  “We might have civilian hostiles.  Stop and prepare to fire, but do not fire until I say the word or there’s no choice.”
“There will be no need, Lieutenant Littlefield,” the voice of Collive said from the dashboard.
A blue van, a red sports car, and several pickup trucks were blocking the road ahead.  In the forward light from the transport vehicle, Littlefield could see that there were people in each vehicle, mostly men, a few women, but all of them had guns.  “Stop right there, now,” shouted one of the men, who was sitting on the hood of his pickup holding a rifle.  “Give us anything valuable you’ve got -- food, bottled water, gas, camping gear -- and we might let you live.”
“We are Platoon 7, E Company, out of Fort Washington,” said Littlefield, and somehow the vehicle was picking up his voice and amplifying it through speakers that he hadn’t known it had.
“Oh shit, it’s the Army,” said one of the other men, “let’s get outta here.”
“Well, now, maybe you’re the Army and maybe not,” said the man with the rifle.  “People lie.  I’m many things, but I’m not a liar, and I’m telling you this gun is loaded.”  He hopped off the pickup’s hood and casually approached the transport vehicle.  Once he was no longer in the direct line of the transport’s forward lights, which were a solid bar of bioluminescent material rather than distinct headlights, he was able to see the rest of the vehicle.  “What the hell?  Since when does the Army drive anything like that?”  He still had his rifle trained on what looked to him like where the driver would sit.
Littlefield, however, had taken up a defensive position behind the door, his own gun aimed out the window at the man.  “I am warning you, Sir, that if you come any closer we will open fire.”
“Violence will not be necessary,” Collive’s voice reiterated.
“If you’re going to do anything, now would be a great time,” Littlefield replied quietly.  The speakers didn’t pick up his voice this time, interestingly.
“Accelerating oxidation,” said Collive.
“That vehicle looks like it has a lot of storage compartments -- what the hell?” said the man when he suddenly found himself holding handfuls of powdery rust.  His rifle’s wooden stock clattered to the pavement.
Littlefield saw this and marveled for only an instant; this was only one of the miracles he’d seen today.  “I repeat, Sir, come any closer and we will open fire.”
“Now, let’s not be hasty,” the man without his rifle said, holding up his hands and backing away.  “Maybe we can make some kind of deal …”
“The deal is, you will clear off the road and return to obeying standard traffic rules and regulations,” said Littlefield his voice amplified again, “then you should report to your local municipal authority, which will soon have relief in the form of food and shelter available to all civilians.  We need to pass so we can continue with the process of making those supplies available to American citizens like yourselves, whom we are sworn to protect and not shoot.  You are American citizens, are you not?”
“Uh, yes!” “Yeah!” “Sure am!” came the replies of the others, who started up their cars and trucks and moved aside.
“Thank you for your cooperation,” Littlefield said as the transports drove past.  “Please report to your local hospital, city hall, police department, sheriff’s office, or county courthouse, where relief supplies will soon be available.”
“The transports are mostly empty, Sir,” said Sergeant Cole’s voice on the radio.  “Just the one factory machine in each one.”
“I know, Sergeant.”
“And it was just you up there.  I couldn’t see the guy.”
“I know that too.”
“You could’ve been shot.”
“Guess I could’ve been.”
“It’s just the five of us,” said Sergeant Cole.  “One driving each transport.  We’re not even really a platoon.”
“We’re what passes for one right now,” said Littlefield.  “Now let’s get to Philly so we can get to the next stage of the plan.  We’ll get one of these factory units to Philly police HQ, and one to each Army post and National Guard armory, then back to Fort Washington.  Then they can duplicate them and spread them from there -- every police station, fire station, hospital, nursing home, school -- hell, public libraries, malls, whatever.”
“You know, we’re not gonna run out of gas, or supplies, ever.  Not if these things work like they’re supposed to.”
“That’s true, so we’re gonna have to watch ourselves,” Littlefield replied.  “The limiting factor is exhaustion.  We don’t have anything else to go by.”
“I believe Major General Pollard and Brigadier General Newbury’s rotation schedule to be sound,” said Collive’s voice.  “Follow it, and you should be able to accomplish your goals.”
“Thanks.”
“You are welcome, Lieutenant.”
As the small convoy slowly moved deeper into the municipality, the more it began to look like a looting session and attack and destroy was going on among the many small gangs and hoodlums. The men in the convoy heard the Voice of Colive as it sighed softly.

Colive’s voice rang out over the hidden PA system within the vehicles, “All armed conflict will end, now. If you persist in shooting at this official United States Military vehicle on a humanitarian mission, the results would be less than optimal for you and your group.”
An ignorant sounding voice rang out, “Optimal? Idn that onena those weird robots that turn inta things?”
Another rang out, “Naw, stupid, thems wuz Transformers an their boss wuz Optimus Prime rib … or sompin like that.”
Another voice rang out, “I don care who tha hell they are. I wanna has whatever they gots. Is they military … it gotta be good.”
About that time, a really weird looking man stood. He was wearing thick, home made armor, that would probably be as good as what the military personnel had. He swung some kind of weapon to his shoulder. The men saw the plume of smoke and the flash of fire as the rocket left the tube. A fine shower of particles was all that reached the vehicles as Collive did … whatever it was he did.
The man, suddenly seemed to be surrounded by some kind of cloud. His eyes got huge as he began to swing his arms around and scream, “Put it out … it burns it burns!!” as he patted his body fiercely with his hands.
The men in the convoy watched as the man’s body, dissolved completely away to nothing with a few seconds.
Collive’s voice said once again, Drop your weapons immediately. All armed conflict ends … now!”
The small group of heavily armed men and women, dropped their weapons and fled, as fast as they could run.

“I just thought of something,” said Chris as they flew to their next destination, in Chicago.  “The air is full of this ‘mist’ all over the world -- of course it’s really organic molecules that are busy neutralizing the killer proteins.  But what if it’s raining somewhere?  Your molecules will get washed away, Collive.”
“That is why the process takes 24 hours,” said Collive.  “Nowhere in the world will it rain for 24 hours nonstop.”
“True, that’s statistically unlikely to happen, but how can you be sure?” Chris asked.
“It will not happen,” said Collive, “because I will not allow it to happen.”
“Oh.  You can affect the weather?”
“To some extent,” Collive answered.  “I cannot control it absolutely.”
“Can you predict it?”
“Prediction of an inherently chaotic system with any accuracy is impossible,” Collive said, “but when one can alter it, it becomes somewhat easier.  However, the occasional random fluctuation does occur --”
A bolt of lightning flashed across their aircraft’s tail.  “What the --?” shouted David.  “That was close!  Where did this storm come from?”
“From the northwest, which is also the direction you are traveling,” said Collive.  “Please try to fly higher and navigate to clearer skies, which you will probably find if you come around to a southwesterly trajectory.”
“Trying,” David said, but the wind was strong, and the lightning was continuing to strike around them.  “Is this thing particularly … fragile if it gets hit by lightning?”
“Unfortunately it is only about as durable when faced with lightning strikes as the aircraft that humans are currently producing,” Collive answered.  “Fortunately the aircraft is not grounded and thus does not attract lightning, but if a strike happens to take place in the wrong place at the wrong time, the results could be less than optimal.”
The storm became worse as Saint Elmo’s fire began to dance across the instrumentation. Rain began to pelt the windscreen as the aircraft bucked it controls. David was enjoying flying this craft until this instant as the control sticks fought him back with gusto.
The craft was insectoid in design and therefore very maneuverable. It didn’t take long before the craft was above the turbulence. David looked over the scanning radar and several of the other devices. According to the readings, most of the electrical discharge was being caused by a static electrical charge being built up within the mist that surrounded the earth. A quirk in nature was causing the ionosphere to discharge into the mist, instead of into the magnetic belt. This, in turn, was causing the storm. David shook his head. It was one of those Caos theory things proven right here.
David looked down into the boiling mass of pyrotechnical clouds. He has a thought.
“Collive?”
“I’m still here.”
“Is it somehow possible to capture those lightning bolts and use them as energy?”
The rest of the trip was idle talk on that subject, until the craft made several swooping motions, causing their stomachs to fall out, before landing perfectly in a small area next to a large fountain.
“Of course it is,” said Collive, “but one must of course form a complete circuit, so it is impossible to store more than a small static charge from the air.  A ground-based system could store a massive amount of electricity from lightning, but of course it would need to have huge amounts of capacity and be in the right place at the right time … is anyone listening?”
They had all exited the aircraft in order to recover from the experience, some kneeling on the soaked ground, some bent over the side of the fountain.  “Guh …” said Chris.  “I think I want my money back after that ride.”
Gasping, Janice added, “Not an E ticket ride.”
“Well … we’re alive,” said Jamie.  “Is everyone all right?”
“I … think so …” said David.  “It’s … actually worse when you’re at the controls, somehow.”
“You are all alive, and by all indications you are in good health,” said Collive.  “This is good.  The vehicle is only slightly damaged, but it is superficial.  You are nearly to your destination; it is only about ten miles to the main Chicago police headquarters.  It should not be long until … beware; you are being observed from multiple directions.”
“Oh, great,” said Chris.  “Let’s get back in the plane.”  Everyone headed for the aircraft.
By the time they entered the aircraft, many heavily armed individuals had formed a semicircle around the otherside of the fountain. A very young woman with a nasty looking weapon in her hands stepped out and said loudly, “Who are ya an what’s your business here?”
David’s amplified voice came over the ship’s invisible PA system, “We have brought supplies. Or, at least, something that will astound you.”
David could see the girl turn her head slightly as she spoke to someone close by, but hidden from view. She stood up and said, “I want only you to come forward. The rest, stay back. Unless ya wanna be blown ta bloody chunks.” She charges the weapon menacingly. David lifted his eyes above the console and looked out. He could see a large group of well armed people on the other side of the fountain.
David said to the rest, “I guess I have to show them … and trust Colive will keep them from harming me. Some of the things he can do are kind of dramatic.”
Janice and Chris tried to talk David from this misadventure, but he was adamant to complete his self appointed mission. David slid from the open hatch in the insectoid aircraft and slid to the ground. He raised his hands above his head and said loudly enough they could hear him across the fountain, “My name’s Dr. David Bollinger.” he turns and motions towards the cockpit, Those are my colleagues and friends. We are on a humanitarian mission to bring food, clothing, and re-establish law and order and governmental rule of the people.”
The girl dropped her weapon and looked closely at David before she smiled broadly and giggled, “Well I’ll be damned.” She jumped from the edge of the fountain, “It’s me, doc, Becky Twilenger.”
About that time, even more heavily armed individuals made themselves visible. A voice could be hear asking, “You know these people?”
Becky replied, “Why, sure do. I was in his class last semester. He’s the doc that discovered all this mess. From what rumors we heard before everything started fallin apart, he and his friend … Chris? I think it was, found this one old ancient ruin place. Where we are right now is cuza them.  Some kinda germs that came outta there and started eatin’ the world.”
“What?” said one of Becky’s armed companions.  “I oughtta shoot you right now, Doctor Professor Man … ‘cept it wouldn’t bring Roberta back.  Nothin’ can do that.”
“I’m … I’m so sorry,” said David.  “I actually … don’t know about my loved ones.  I haven’t heard anything.  I’ve been working nonstop trying to get help to as many people as I could …”
“Hey now,” said Becky, “it’s not like he knew that stuff was down there.  Right, Doc?  You told us in your class that you thought you’d found, what, some kinda ancient writing?  That nobody knew what it meant?”
“That’s right,” David said, his hands still out at his sides, “there was no way to know what was down there, especially … well, anything like what happened.  No one has ever seen anything like it before.  It turns out that it was a lot older than we thought, that site.”
“And it stopped, right?” Becky said.  “We thought we were all done for.  Then it suddenly just stopped, and there was all this mist and fog.”
“Yes,” said David.  “The government stepped in and took over our investigation, and set up one of their own, putting Chris and me in quarantine, but while we were locked up, they managed to make a mess of it.”  David told the story.
“So … a broken computer from space ate the world?” Becky asked.  “That’s pretty crazy sounding, Doc.”
“I guess so,” David said.  “But it’s all true.  You can talk to the computer now, if you want.  Now that it’s fixed.  The fog is actually molecules the computer is sending out to stop the broken ones.  It’s not a computer like we have; it’s biological.  It’s made of proteins.  I’m an archaeologist, not a biochemist, so I don’t know the details.”
“The computer … talks?  English?” asked Becky.
“It’s learned English, and lots of other languages,” explained David, “and we gave it a name.  We call it Collive.  It … well it didn’t intend to harm anyone; the trouble was caused because it broke, before history began.”
A man with a rather well kept beard said, “If we can talk to this thing, Let’s set up some kind of task group or something and get this reconstruction thing underway. The longer it stays this way, the more chance there is someone will do something rather stupid.”
The voice of Collive spoke, “I am doing my very best to stop all the killing.” a stowage compartment in the side of the insectoid popped open. “In this compartment is a device that will end all your hunger, clothing, and housing needs.”
The man’s face has a totally incredulous expression as he points to the insectoid, “It … it … talks?”
Jamie giggles, “Sorta, silly. That’s the voice of Collive across the radio and broadcast over the Crafts PA system.”
Collive said, “I have been broken for longer than this current biosphere has been verdant. Now, I am whole again and will lift mankind from this mess.”
David and Christopher lift a weird device from the compartment. it rolls along on 4 spheres that is indeterminate how they attached to the device. The men stop in front of the gentleman with the beard, then David puts his hand over the green half sphere on top.
Immediately, the machine unfolds and become the familiar machine set to produce food stuffs.
David asks, “How would you like to have a lipid-burger? Just like the world famous one from Lipies?”
Becky’s eyes get huge as she says in wonder, “I would love one … an fries anna soda pop?”
David shrugs and replies, “I don’t see why not.”
Becky and the others watch as David sets the machine to make hamburgers, soda pops and fries … just like from Lipi’s Hamburgers.
Several completed meals roll out on the conveyor. Becky takes one of the fries and gives it a sniff, then pops it in her mouth. She closes her eyes and moans softly in pleasure as she chews it up and swallows.
She says delightedly, OMG! it is a Lipid-Burger!”
David laughs, “You can make any kind of food substance, clothing, housing, or most anything else.”
The man with the beard points to the insectoid and comments, “Flying bug aircraft too, huh?”
Christopher answers, “Or fish like boats and eel like submarines, or centipede-like ground vehicles.”
Another man approached as he asked, “Can it reproduce … lost objects?”
Jamie replied, “If the matrix is stored within the neural net of Collive’s consciousness … yes.”
The man got an expectant expression on his face as he asked softly, “Can … it bring back my … daughter? She wuz tha only thing that gave my life meaning.”
The voice of Collive replied from the Insectoid’s PA system, “I would need a genetic sample from you to determine if that matrix is stored in my collective memory. The odds are good I will find it, I have many … hundreds of millions stored, but the problem is that the individual will be new, without memories.”
“So it’d be like … she was just born?  She’d be a baby?”
“She could be any physical age, but I would recommend starting the body off at newborn age, because she will need to learn everything again, just as any baby does.”
“I concur,” said Jamie.  “It’s good that babies are small and not very strong, because they don’t have control over their muscles yet and no concept of the consequences of their actions.”
“There is time to consider whether you truly wish to do this,” said Collive.  “If you set the minifactory to produce a communication device, you can speak with me at any time.  Also, once the infrastructure is restored, I will have a phone number, and I will remember this conversation in perfect detail.”
“Wow …”  The man paused.  “That’s … real heavy.  I gotta think about this.”
“Please consider carefully,” said Collive.  “It is not a decision to be taken lightly.  But take all the time you need.”
The group was silent for a moment.
“In the meantime,” said David, “you can have one of these manufacturing devices, which is all you need, because it can produce copies of itself.   Soon everyone will have a copy of this thing, and that will be all they’ll need.”
“But we need to get going, so we can keep distributing copies of it,” said Chris.  “Right?  Before people starve or freeze to death?”
“You’re right, Chris, we can’t stop,” said David.  “We have to keep going.  Even though we’re dead tired.”
“I am not sure you do,” said Collive’s voice.  “You are being approached, but do not worry; it is the authorities you sought to contact.”
“What?  Where --” asked Janice, looking around.  Then a centipede-like land train came around the corner and approached the fountain square.
“This is the Greater Chicago Police Department,” said an amplified voice.  “Is anyone in need of assistance?  We have brought supplies.”
“You -- you’ve already got a minifactory?” asked David.
“Yes, we do -- wait, are you Dr. David Bollinger?” said the voice.  “I’m Sergeant Jim Danvers, and … wait, just a moment.”  The police officer got out of the vehicle and came over.  “Dr. Bollinger, I’d like to shake your hand.”  He offered a hand to David.
David extended his own hand, and they shook hands.  “Do I … know, you, Sergeant?” he asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Danvers, “but I know you.  You’ve become sort of an overnight legend.  Philadelphia, D.C., Boston, New York, Atlanta, Charleston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington … how many towns have you visited in one night?  You’re like … some kind of post-apocalyptic Santa Claus.  Everyone has these things you’ve been giving away -- the Army, the police, the hospitals, everywhere.”
“What?  Everyone?” asked Chris.
“Yeah, someone from the South Bend, Indiana police came over in one of those bug planes and brought us one of those factory boxes, and now we’ve made some fliers and ground vehicles and have been getting them out to people and to the regional and town departments -- they’ve been spreading faster than the common cold.”
“Do you know … about other countries?” David asked.
“Well, I know that the Detroit PD made some boats and headed across the water to Canada,” said Danvers.  “Other than that, I haven’t heard much …”
“I have information,” said Collive.  “It would appear that you have achieved what might be called critical mass, Dr. Bollinger.  The chain reaction you had hoped to start has occurred.”
“It’s spreading?  The technology?”
“It seems to be,” Collive responded.  “It has reached Minneapolis and St. Louis ahead of you, as well as Kansas City, Houston, Austin, and New Orleans.  The stops you made in the Middle East and Europe also caused ripples; even places as far from there as Bangladesh and Japan have begun seeing the factory modules.  The transition to Indonesia, Australia and the Pacific islands may take more time, but it is quite likely not to take very much more time.”
The sky was starting to turn pink in the east.  “We’re going to make it,” said David.
“Odds of the human race avoiding dramatic population losses are now very good,” Collive said.
“I’d better get moving, though,” said Sgt. Danvers.  “It was an honor meeting you, Dr. Bollinger -- I hope we’ll meet again.”  They shook hands once more, and Danvers got back in his vehicle.
“Wait … we can see the sunrise,” said Janice.  “It’s … the fog is lifting!  The rogue prions -- Collive must be done clearing them out!”
“Indeed,” said Collive, “my information indicates no sign of any remaining fragments.”
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It only took a few years, and like a Phoenix rising from the ashes of its own funeral pyre, the earth rebuilt. The discovery that Collive was actually an integral part of all of the genome of mankind, made some delighted at the new insights and connectivity and creativity it afforded them as a whole.
There were of course some, who felt this was a total invasion of privacy … which it truly was. But when one looks at the aspect that every cell within our bodies belonged to Collive, then it helped them to come to some reasonable understanding of it was there to stay.
Magnificent domed cities arose majestically across the planet as humankind experienced another renaissance of understanding and their place within the universe.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In deepest space, 2 planetesimals collided violently, creating a brand new planet in its wake. Massive amounts of debris, some as large as mountains were flung off on wild tangents through the cosmos.
Time passes as it has a way of doing, Perspective changes and we see off in the cosmological distance, across the tumbling surface of an airless asteroid, a bright shining blue white planet ... Dead in this rock’s cross-hairs.
--------------------------------------
~~ The End? ~~
--------------------------------------
Miki Yamuri
 
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