We were speeding towards the artifact in her bike, disregarding most traffic regulations along the way. 

“Now that we’re done with your questions, here is a list of mine,” her voice announced sharply through the helmet’s intercom.“ Her questions were precise and followed in rapid succession, like a burst of automatic fire from her Tavor.

“You have mentioned nuclear weapons and World War Three. What were you talking about exactly? What do you know about the artifact? Why do you think you need a weapon? Do you expect a confrontation? Whom with, their number, weapons and capability? Was the person helping you working for the aliens? What do you know about the aliens? Tell me everything.”

I did. I told her everything that had happened to me since I rode away on that damned electric scooter. I also told her about the terrorist plot and the two ships with nuclear weapons on board. If she was surprised or shocked by that information, her voice didn’t let it show, and I couldn’t see her eyes while we were riding her Ninja e-bike. 

Then I asked her, with hope in my voice, “Tia, do you have an emergency contact of some sort? Snail mail is so slow, there should be something else you can use to communicate. Can you call in a special forces unit to stop these ships? It should not be that difficult.”

“There is a way to post a classified ad with code words that I told you about. But because the vocabulary is very limited I cannot convey very specific information. There are keywords for contact with aliens, discovery of significant information about them, imminent invasion and many other circumstances. There is a way to call in a special team but it only works with a particular geographical area the ad is posted at. There is no ad section for the Atlantic ocean. There is absolutely no way I can pass coded information about a specific threat that you described. I could only break protocol and call in with this information urging an immediate action but it’s highly probable that it will be intercepted as the alien control over our information networks is virtually absolute. What do you think will happen if they know that we know about a nuclear strike?”

“I think the Horsemen can disable most if not all of your drones, smart weapons and aircraft, as they all are networked and therefore compromised. Then, by the time you can find a serviceable yet sufficiently ancient aircraft to deliver your special forces to take over the ship, the terrorists will be in range to launch their missiles. They are planning to do it close to shore, to minimize their chances of being intercepted, but they will take what they can get, and launch as soon as they can if they know they’re busted. At least that’s what Theo’s AI projections have estimated. The only feasible way of foiling their plot is a surprise and covert attack, so that the weapons are disabled before the terrorists realize that they are being attacked. Then you can call in your cavalry, but not before. And there is a huge problem with mounting such a covert mission.”

I tried to recall the charts and projections I looked at before.

“You see, a single Horseman is likely to be on each ship. And because of the ‘black boxes’ in their brain, any Advancer will be sensed when approaching the target. There was no way for Theo to sneak there undetected. And no way to involve human government agencies without making it known to the Horsemen. That’s the reason he saved my life – or possibly endangered it first and then faked saving it. He calculated that I have a reasonable chance of getting in without spooking the Horsemen. I will only have to deal with the terrorists then, peace of cake!”

My attempted joke came out weak as there was a hint of panic in my voice. 

“He didn’t know about ETTF of course. He might have found a way to contact you if he did,” I added. “Speaking of which, you said there were two ETTF operatives keeping a watch over the artifact. Are we going to let them know what’s going on? There’s no reason an amateur like me should be involved in a counter-terrorist operation, now that professionals can be involved without letting the Horsemen know. They may not have time to call in the cavalry, but at least they can go instead of me.” I suddenly saw a glimmer of hope that I won’t have to risk my life in this mad and half-assed attempt to stop the global apocalypse. But this short-lived hope was immediately crushed by Tia.

“I’m sorry to rain on your parade, but as far as I know, all our agents in the area were thrown into locating and extracting our most promising potential asset: you. They are currently crawling in and around the log cabin, trying to piece together what has happened there. Considering a total communications blackout they would not even know where you have landed your seaplane. And I don’t have any means to contact them that’s fast enough to matter. On the other hand I am a professional and I am going in with you. So it’s not going to be an amateur operation, or at least not entirely so. I have trained for this, you know. And I have no problem risking my life for a good cause. I’m a soldier, remember? I signed up for shit like this. As a matter of fact I am the one who should go in alone and leave a certain untrained civilian to mind his own business.”

She sounded defensive. I felt a prick of guilt for not taking her very seriously, and being obvious enough about it for her to sense it. She just didn’t look like a commando, the whole notion was ridiculous. 

“Listen, I’m not going to chicken out, I was just hoping there were other people who could handle it. And you can’t do it alone anyway: I have all the information, and also the interface and the force field generator, both of which are only authorized to work for me.”

I was bluffing. It was plausible of course, as Theo did prepare those devices to be used by me, but I didn’t really know that they would be locked out for anyone else.

“OK. Let’s say we go together. But how could Theo expect an untrained civilian like you to disable well-protected nuclear missiles on a terrorist-infested ship in the middle of a freaking ocean?” Tia asked. “I know quite a bit about how such things are done, and your idea sounds, well, ridiculous for the lack of a better word.” 

I looked at her sheepishly. “I don’t pretend to be an expert, but the Advancers totally own the Horsemen’s communications, remember? They got the documentation for those weapons. If I could only sneak in undetected, I have the deactivation codes for the missiles. I believe I can disable them. And my personal force field should protect me from bullets. One thing we are missing for the moment though, is how to safely get to the ship.” 

The abandoned farm was coming up on the left soon. We were almost there. So I had to conclude my line of reasoning quickly. 

“And that’s where the artifact comes into play.”

  • Konstantin Medvedev
    Posted at 08:01h, 02 October Reply

    Technically, there is a trivial way to communicate through public networks without interception. Secret code pages that both sides use to code-decode messages.
    It is technically impossible to decode the messages without the key. Until the key is safe all messages are safe.
    So it sounds unprofessional to cut all communications.

    • roman
      Posted at 03:05h, 27 December Reply

      This is called “one-time pad”. There are at least three problems with it in this context: one is that the most valuable secret is not even the contents of the messages, but the existance of the messages. The knowledge of the aliens’ existance and the awareness of a global hack. The presence of the code would reveal that to the alience. The second is that any device to be used for the coding could be compromised as well, so the messages could be compromised before they are encoded or after they are encoded. The third is that generating one-time pads usually involved some kind of a random generator, which proved flawed in many instances and thus alien quantum computers would be able to decode it, given enough messages are intercepted. Considering what is at stake, it was decided not to rely on any media that can be monitored.

  • Konstantin Medvedev
    Posted at 08:11h, 02 October Reply

    The numbered questions leave a feeling of a dishwasher manual or a blueprint.

    • roman
      Posted at 02:58h, 27 December Reply

      I was going for a specific effect but it did’t work and looked weird and out of characted. So I rephrased it.

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