23 Jul 54%
I don’t drink much, and don’t do it often. You see, from the Russian side of my gene pool I must have inherited the high tolerance to alcohol. I can drink quite a lot without getting drunk. I can control my motor functions quite well, I can think clearly and fully realize all the effects of the consumed alcohol on my body. I never got sick from drinking too much in my life. And believe me, I tried. The problem with it is the morning after. The hangovers I get are massive. If there were a unit for measuring hangovers, mine would measure in megatons. I feel extremely miserable and incapacitated for the whole day. So heavy drinking has never worked for me: I never get really drunk, but still get the thermonuclear hangover the next morning. It’s just not worth it.
So, when socially drinking I just stick to modest quantities of a decent red wine, single malt whiskeys, XO cognacs, and on a very special occasion, rare vodkas (I don’t like the ordinary ones). Never mixing those during a single evening of course. But sometimes things happen in life that feel like an unexpected punch in the solar plexus. You stare into nothingness, reality banished to the very edges of your awareness, spending all your remaining strength on just trying to breathe and suck enough air to remain conscious. Such a moment calls for a shot of something really strong, just to make it more bearable. This was definitely it.
Within a span of just a few short days I found an impossible artifact, was almost killed more than once, attacked by thugs whom I miraculously defeated with astonishingly bad karate, almost shot a person, hitched a freight train, and as a cherry on a cake have met an actual freaking alien who told me that while one extraterrestrial race is meddling with our history, another is trying to wipe out a sizeable chunk of humanity. This was just too much for me to process. I thought that I was completely numb already and my mind was so oversaturated, that I could not feel anymore. But still there was a growing tension inside that felt like a very bad premonition. In other words, I needed a drink.
I looked at the cupboard above the fridge, which was inconvenient enough to mean Theo is not a regular drinker. It was stocked with admirable array of spirits. I took a bottle at random, I think it was Glenmorangie, poured myself one shot into a proper whiskey glass, which I drank in a single gulp, then as life gradually started to seem more bearable, I poured another, no ice, and went up to the loft.
There was a queen bed there, and nothing else really. I lied down on the bed, put the alien red cap on, and activated the interface. After some struggle of making the interface interpret my intentions correctly, I found the Horsemen folder started reviewing its contents – documents, communication intercepts and occasional videos, summarized and translated for me by the alien AI.
It read like the craziest mash of an alternative history novel, a sci-fi space opera, a spy thriller, and a fringe conspirology DarkNet channel.
There was a lot of material. A treasure trove of documents, transcripts, videos and photos, charts and projections. It took me the rest of the day and most of the night to even get through the summaries of it all. Apparently there was always four Horsemen – the number being of some unclear significance with that alien race. The specific aliens have rotated once in a while, but the number remained the same. On the other side, there were usually five to seven Advancers at any given time. According to whatever passed as diplomatic etiquette with those beings, this was about the maximum size for a covert scientific mission on a primitive planet.
Apparently, their ships were not just intelligent, they were keeping an eye on all of the scientific activities. Every once in a while, whenever subspace conditions were right (don’t ask me what that means – I have no idea), and enough energy was stored in the transdimensional traps (don’t ask me about those either), each ship broadcasts a Progress Report regarding the status of its expedition, well-being of the crew, and any irregularities.
The archive was not meant for me to discover the basics of alien culture and technology, so I had to piece together an understanding from bits of information scattered throughout the operational documents.
It was absolutely exhilarating for such a hard science fiction fan like me to get a glimpse of an advanced alien technology. It was only a glimpse though, leaving my vivid imagination to paint mental pictures of how those things looked and worked.
I queried the archive about the Progress Reports, and discovered that they actually had faster-than-light subspace communication that used a freaking parallel dimension! Apparently so much energy was required to get the message through that it took close to a thousand hours of channeling the entire output of their immensely powerful energy sources. There was no mention of the principle they were based on, but our best nuclear fission reactors are a joke in comparison, I could not believe the energy output figures – I still doubt I read those correctly. All this energy was funnelled into the transdimensional energy traps which were some kind of containment vessels that acted as a sort of super-condensers, storing it and releasing the whole charge on demand, sending the chunk of information to any desired destination instantly.
The aliens were not allowed to take any technology down to earth with the exception of some personal protection devices which were not described in detail, data recording equipment, camouflaged brain interfaces and so on. Definitely no weapons. So whatever they have done, it was in secret from their ships and their governments (if they had governments – there was not much data on the aliens themselves). I have learned this from their reports comparing similarities and differences between their ships and mission profiles.
Then I got to the documents containing the operational history of the Horsemen faction. The videos alone were priceless. I was watching in awe as I was shown scenes from the late 19th century and later in brilliant and fully immersive stereoscopic video. I just could not stop. It was mind-blowing.
I remember how amazing it was to see colour footage from the Second World War for the first time, which suddenly made the past look much closer and more real. This was similar, but much more powerful. It was addictive and terrifying at the same time – the same way a dash-cam videos of car crashes are. You feel a little guilty about watching them, but keep going nonetheless and can’t stop for quite a while. I felt the same while watching the horrors of the world wars, and had an entirely new look at many important historical events.
The people remain the same throughout history, I concluded. Any illusion that we have progressed and became better as human beings is just that – an illusion. Culture and civilization are a thin veneer that barely conceals our animal nature, and not much is required for it to rear its ugly head, even in our educated and cultured time. A war, a fanatical ideology, a natural disaster – and both the best and the worst of humanity manifest in no time at all.
Apparently the entire experience of all alien agents on Earth was recorded directly from their visual cortex (or what passes for one in their head), and what I was watching were excerpts of the most important events. Fortunately for me, it was all meticulously prepared and only the best and most interesting clips out of what must be a truly massive archive were made available for me. I’m not sure if it was all prepared specifically for me or for Advancer’s internal use, but in any case it was absolutely breathtaking. They must have had a serious AI capacity earthside that was independent from the ship’s AI to process this amount of data: from what I understood, the big AI up there in orbit can’t even know what’s going on with the Advancer’s operation.
As followed from some documents, The Horsemen recordings were the result of a massive hack of their network by the more advanced Advancers (pun intended) and a subsequent communication intercepts.
Apparently, the Horsemen have managed to greatly contribute to the perfectly hopeless situation in Europe in the leadup to the Great War. They did not start the actual war, but they had engineered the chain of events that may seem impossibly small to have such a huge effect on the world. I have always felt that the events in Sarajevo that triggered the war were grotesquely disproportionate to their consequences and were full of unnatural coincidences.
I mean tell me it doesn’t sound like a bad movie: there were six assassins that were each supposed to take a shot at assassinating poor Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The first one was a coward and chickened out, the second one was dumb enough to set his grenade’s timed delay for 10 seconds when throwing it at a moving car, so of course it exploded few cars down and blew up the wrong people. Then he was comically dumb to take a cyanide capsule that had decayed and just made him throw up. And to top it off, for a full trifecta, to make sure he would not be captured alive he jumped into the river, which turned out to be only inches deep. That’s your Monty Python sketch right there.
The rest of the assassins didn’t even get their chance. But when later in the day Ferdinand decided to visit grenade attack victims in the hospital, a general just forgets to tell the Archduke’s driver to take a direct route, then the driver makes a wrong turn and passes in front of the cafe where one of the remaining assassins, Gavrilo Princip, is drinking his failed-assassin-latte and sulking at not being able to fulfill his destiny. Seeing a familiar open car passing by he’s helplessly gaping in surprise, not having any time to react. But then the driver, realizing he took a wrong turn, stops and tries to go in reverse, right to Gavrilo, who can’t believe his luck. Then the car stalls and gears lock, just in time for Gavrilo to appreciate faith’s wicked joke, laugh at the irony of his elusive victim being delivered right into his arms, pull his FN and shoot Ferdinand and his wife at point blank range. If you see this chain of coincidences in a movie, would you believe it? Neither would I.
It was a series of unbelievably weird coincidences. And then because a clueless nationalist assassin, killing a minor noble of a second-rate European country by a freak accident, which should have been just a minor news item, forty million people die. Forty million!
Turns out it was much less of a coincidence than people think. Cafe location, general’s forgetfulness, driver’s route, and locking gears were not exactly random. The whole event was arranged to affect a tightly calculated breaking point with would cause a domino effect.
Although the Horsemen could not use any advanced technology, they did apply their telekinetic skills, deep knowledge of human psychology and some kind of highly advanced neuro-linguistic programming ability, supported by almost miraculously accurate social prediction algorithms based on their quantum computers with borderline magic AI.
It was well played: several countries without a particular need or desire to fight were left with virtually no choice in the matter, events quickly snowballing into the greatest war in the history of humanity. And so they fought and the world has burned.
The Horsemen carefully accelerated some advancement in science and technology. Their bet was on the Great War achieving widespread use of poison gas and biological agents, which was supposed to lead to chemical arms race and a runaway anthrax epidemic or two. But humanity was either sane enough to stop using those (that’s the optimistic version), or the weapons were too ineffective and unpredictable (that’s the more realistic version), so it didn’t work out well enough for the Horsemen. Apparently forty million dead was not apocalyptic enough to trigger the alien takeover of the Earth. So they had resolved to try harder next time.
But their strategic goal was still successfully achieved: they did set up the stage for the Second World War. They even helped Adolf Hitler develop his mad vision and rise to power by removing a few obstacles in his path. They did the same for Lenin. But, sad to say, they did not have to do much – we all did ourselves in quite effectively. Just as Germans had enthusiastically embraced their mad fuhrer’s ideas about a Thousand Year Reich and a necessity of exterminating the untermensch, Russians had embraced Lenin and Stalin’s ideas about building a worldwide Communist Utopia on the corpses of the oppressive classes. They had not just accepted the idea of mass-murdering people simply because they belonged to the bourgeoisie or had employees (and thus were deemed exploiters of the proletariat), but cheerfully wrote around four million of denunciation letters, condemning their neighbours, friends, and even parents to death or endless suffering in GULAG camps. So as much as I want to blame aliens for our troubled history – I can’t.
The plan was to promote the establishment of mutually incompatible superpowers that would have to end in a nuclear weapon exchange with massive casualties. The Horsemen had assisted selected nuclear physicists with their theoretical work, and helped a brilliant engineer Wernher von Braun to work out his V-1 and V-2 rockets, weapons revolutionary for that era, decades ahead of Russians and Americans. Now I understand why.
It appears that prior to the Second World War the Advancers were not aware of the Horsemen’s covert activities. But sometime in the early 1940-s they found out and have engaged in active cyberwarfare, leading to the discovery of the Horsemen’s plans, and counter-interference. First they assisted in staging the (failed) Hitler’s assassination attempt that became known as “Operation Valkyrie”. Hitler had miraculously survived it because a colonel present at the meeting supposedly “accidentally” pushed the briefcase containing the bomb behind a conference table’s leg, which “accidentally” deflected the explosion to completely destroy the whole conference room interior except the sector where the fuhrer was positioned. Do you actually shove other people’s briefcases with your legs during meetings? Neither do I. Needless to say, there was not much accidental about that.
Believing in a briefcase that had moved as if by its own volition, with telekinetic assistance of one of the Wolf’s Lair staff passing nearby, is not easy, but after the beer can trick that I have seen with my own eyes, I have little doubt about that. It was an elegant solution requiring minimal action – moving the bomb just a little, so the massive table leg deflected the powerful explosion and shrapnel away from the precise sector that had to be covered in order to kill its target.
However the Advancers had succeeded with derailing the German nuclear research. All they needed to do was to nudge Hitler’s paranoia towards mistrusting German nuclear program and the scientists who were a part of it, and subtly sabotage a couple of experiments. This had worked: nuclear program got defunded, many scientists had fled, Germans didn’t get their Wunderwaffe, and eventually lost the war. With fission technology possessed by just one side of that conflict, there was no massive nuclear exchange, and this time the unimaginable 85 million deaths were apparently still not good enough for triggering the alien takeover.
Americans had scooped the creme de la creme of German scientists and engineers, including Von Braun, and got the bomb first, with ballistic rockets engineered by the same Von Braun following soon after. The Horsemen had helped Stalin get the American nuclear bomb blueprints, and when the Soviets got the bomb they pitted the USSR and the USA against each other, hoping for a global nuclear conflict. Throughout the Cold War the Horsemen had assisted in or created several incidents that could have resulted in a global nuclear war, but fortunately did not succeed. Sometimes due to the Advancers’ counter-interference, other times due to human unpredictability, courage or foolishness.
By that time I was not surprised to learn that the Cuban missile crisis was the product of one of the Horsemen’s operations. They were suspecting the Advancers’ resistance so there was another layer underneath the main events that most people are aware of: several Soviet submarines with nuclear-tipped torpedoes cruising in american waters. As the situation became tense, the captains were ready to launch an attack at Americal coastal cities. The weird series of unclear communications, lack of coherent commands, failed radio contacts and overall uncertainty, rendering those submarines ineffective and unable to act were due to the Advancer’s actions.
This was all so unbelievable, and yet I had no trouble at all believing it was real. I had swallowed the whole story hook, line, and sinker. What convinced me were the videos. They were like windows in time that had opened for me, showing countless historical events in mind-blowing detail and depth. The footage simply looked gorgeous. And those videos didn’t look like a high budget HBO historical drama production. Everything just looked real, as there was no editing or directing involved. This gave the videos that rough realistic feeling that many modern directors strive for.
After watching scenes from the battle of the Somme and then Borodino battle, with Napoleon’s spyglass popping almost into my face from the screen, I was convinced that this was not a hoax. We just didn’t have technology that can even remotely approach that level of realism in video reproduction. And even if we had – recreating so many historical scenes in such detail would require immense budgets, if it was doable at all, and there was no reason I could see to invest in such an elaborate and expensive hoax.
The Horsemen of the Apocalypse were responsible for several known and unknown false nuclear attack alerts (hacking human computer systems was trivial) and other incidents. Kennedy assassination was also orchestrated with their help – the famous “Babushka lady” was one of their agents, although precise details of that operation were too complex for me to get through – some other time perhaps.
But despite the familiar guilty feeling of being fascinated by someone’s tragedy, the fresh new footage of the assassination itself was amazing.
When I finished browsing through the folder labeled “Horsemen of the Apocalypse – past operations”, I proceeded with the next one, called “Horsemen of the Apocalypse – current operations”. I opened the first file – a brief summary of operation Wormwood.
Oh shit! Oh shit oh shit oh shit!!!