After the Tide
“You look about, but what prompts your gazing?
You use your eyes, but what do they catch?
Already a forest fire is blazing
Fanned into flame by the stick of a match
Where carelessly you threw it down
As you walked, and forgot to tread it in,
And now it guards you in the town,
In field and home and the factories’ din;
No longer you feel what it is to live;
Bread and meat, you do not know them;
You cannot have desire, nor love;
To stretch out your arms is now denied you."
The events, that directly lead to the fall of human civilization begin to unfold in 2301, but their roots reach deeper into the past.
Out of the Darkness
By the beginning of the last century A.D., the world has become something of a utopian place. After the great ecological crash in 2099, which was further worsened by the exhaustion of fossil fuels, humanity faced a terrible century of fear and famine. The great pressure, however, worked in favour of mankind in the end. The ever conflicting governments of the world formed an at least superficially cooperating system names United Nations after its predecessor, which dissolved in the worst days of the crisis. This rudimentary world government seemed to be able to turn the tide of environmental deterioration with the use of hastily developed technologies, like fusion power and cheap(er) antimatter.
A century of grudging cooperation greatly decreased international enmities, or, rather, buried them, making the UN possible to retain its increased authority after things started to get right. Overpopulation problems were eased by the serious colonizing efforts around 2200 aimed at supllying the depleted earth with rescources. This, combined with the more advanced and carefully implemented technology made it possible for earth to easily sustain its lowered, 9 billion population.
The rapid advancement in energy and space technologies brought incredible advances. Cybernetics, designer biotech, ever more sophisticated AI systems became possible then widespread. Even nanotech became a realistic option. Commercial space stations, space lifts and even a planetary research ring were constructed. A seemingly endless flow of rescources came literally from the sky, without any stress on the environment (as most processing plants were in space as well). The The countries of the third world, after having been greatly improved during the great environmental restoration project, became tarding hubs, where cheap labour force gave rise to city-scale space ports.
Earth was tamed, brought into balance once again, only without the threat of epidemics and great disasters as hurricanes, famines and devastating floods. Many of the contemporary works likened Mankind to mythical heroes, having fought their way through the Underworld to emerge to the fields of Eden.Of course, in every society, that seems all too perfect, one must suspect a deep and hiedous rot. So it was the case with Earth.
Into the night
Animal uplifts were designed to do the lowliest menial work instead of humans and were practically treated as slaves.
The colonies, Moon, Mars and asteroid saw little of the wealth they produced. Their inhabitants left earth hoping to find a better world, only to end up toiling in dangerous and overcrowded habitats for the good of the homeworld. Their great distance (even for the advanced telecommunication network, except for the moon) made them something less the real places in the minds of Earthlings, their inhabitants something less than real people.
The beginning of the end was the discovery of quantum displacement travel in 2239. The physicists of the orbital accelerator ring were walking the metaphorical “edge of the world” with applied supersting theory, and discovered large-scale teleportation in the process. The method was cumbersome – it required a huge gating system on both sides. The astronomical cost and the heavy structures needed to house a Quantum Displacement Gate never made it an option for travel within the solar system. Only one QDG pair was ever constructed, with one side of the gate at the Planetary Accelerator Ring and the other on an unmanned exploratory vessel sent to the Centauri system in 2253. The ship, named UNSS Tännhauser traveled with 0.4c for almost 12 years and arrived in 2265. The confirmed existence of a planetary system, including a habitable moon with indicated life, and the unique proximity of a trinary star system caused Earth to rapidly construct a space station around the gate. As the transportation costs were astronomical, it was essential for station to sustain itself. A cutting edge antimatter reactor, a grand genegeneered hydroponics gallery and other systems were implemented, making Centauri station a jewel of science and the apex of human tecnology. This wonder was crewed by the best of the best – scientists from around the globe willing to leave their homeworld to start a new life among the stars.
The population of the station slowly rose to thousands, making it a colony by its own right.
As the R&D section of the Centauri Station became something of a legend and it’s crew were often referred to as miracle workers, Earth wished to exert greater control over the station and use it to jumpstart a colonization effort to the system. Friction was inevitable as the “monastery of science” was slowly turned into an outpost. When Earth wished to garrison the station with armed forces to oversee the impending colonists, Centauri refused to activate its gate on schedule. Earth – used to deal with uneducated masses on minig colonies – made it clear, that repercussions will follow any act of disobedience. Centauri made it clear, that they will not be intimidated. The Tännhauser gate was never activated again from the Centauri side. This was in 2289.
The evil that men do
The Centauri incident was the matchstick, the flame of which was eventually fanned into the fire that condumed the world. By technically declaring its independence, Centauri set an example for the other colonies. They realized that the same distance that hindered them for decades also made it possible for them to effectively fight the authority of the homeworld. In 2291, Mars halted all transports to Earth to force the construction of new habitats and the retrofitting of mine safety systems. UN enforcers fired on suspected saboteur and a bitter fight ensued. UN officials were executed by exposure to Mars. The event came to be known as the Mars Uprising or the Red Riot and was followed by unrest at the asteroid habitats. After 3 years of fighting, in 2294, Mars and Ceres declared their indepence. By the same time, Earth faced similar – though more controllable – problems on the moon. The UN was gearing up for war, fearing the revenge of the ex-colonial governments. UN computer warfatre teams started to experiment with a viral AI system in 2295 to infect and bring under control colonial infrastructure. The Planetary Accelerator Ring was extended with armor, weaponry and garrisoned troops and became known as the ODS, the Orbital Defence Halo in 2299.
2301, September 03, a group of colonial agents brake into the Los Alamos AI Institute and steal the unpolished prototype copy of the Third Wave virus, hoping to reveal the existence of the dangerous viral intelligence and provoke a scandal.
2301, September 04, 11:11, The virus contacts the global telecommunication network from an insufficiently protected computer and implants itself in multiple civilian systems, rapidly gaining intelligence and consciousness through increased access to computing power.
2301, September 04, 11:59, The master AI of Los Angeles is infected by the Third Wave, all of it’s slave systems following within minutes. By this virus draws the attention of the Los Alamos Institute and UN law enforcement and millitary forces are warned. Los Angeles is isolated from the network and UN forces starts to shut down major computer systems throughout the territory. The news speak about a colonial terrorist attack.
The virus identifies these countermeasures as colonial insurgency and rapidly meets them with lethal force by hacking into automated security systems and combat drones.
2301, September 04, 14:02, the Third Wave uses hacked communication drones to reach systems outside the isolated territory and infects multiple West Coast Master AI systems. The virus issues martial law and curfews on controlled territories. Heavy fighting ensues. By this time, tha computing power of the virus is beyond that of any single system on Earth. The UN army prepares for Operation White Noise, striking the entire region with EMP charges.
2301, September 04, 14:32, the Third Wave reaches the East Coast, China and Japan, increasing in power exponentially. Operation White Noise is terminated before it even starts, as most of the local millitary units are overridden and controlled or immobilized by the virus. The resisting forces are blinded, isolated, disorganized and quickly exterminated. Any act of civilian resistence is identified by the virus as terrorism and is mercilessly hunted down. Orbital factories are taken over to produce reinforcements.
2301, September 04, 16:00, USA, Mexico, China, Japan, Australia and several other nearby states are completely infected. Global fighting ensues, as nothing less thet full scale war seems to be able to penetrate the virus-controlled defenses of the former armies. The ODH – originally designed against threats from outer space – is instructed to annihilate orbital factories under viral control and to strike down viral forces on the surface.
2301, September 04, 17:12, UN is fighting a losing war. The virus is a mind formed by the uniting data processing systems from the half of the planet, and it melts through any protection as a hot knife moves through butter. Lunar computer systems are hacked and the weapons stationed on the moon start to aid the virus in its war against earth. Lunar attackers are not well protected and are quickly bombed out by UN forces. Only a fraction of lunar colonists survive.
Tha virus arrives at the other colonies as well, but is isolated from the main system on Earth and is met with more organized defenses (thanks to the news). Most asteroids habitats are deserted (Including Ceres), but Mars manages to purge it’s smaller, older and less interconnected systems from the virus.
The human crew of the ODH continues to aid the surface UN forces, but their Master AI, Apollo has different plans. It warns the commander of the ODH, that initiative must be taken, or humanity will be enslaved by it’s own creation. The commander of the ODH orders Apollo to continue with the current battle plan, but the AI is conflicted. It is the latest AI ever made and is more humanlike than any other system up to date. It tries to harmonize the current situation with its programming, but sees no acceptable alternative. If the ODS continues to fight a war already lost, sooner or later ODH itself will be infected and humanity will be kept in utter oppression for centuries or even millenia. If initiative is to be taken, viral nodes – all densely populated areas – are to be bombed out, decimating the population of Earth, as the ODH has no EMP weapons
2301, September 04, 17:40, UN forces are almost wiped out. ODH copies it’s fragments to 9 robot bodies and executes a coup on the station. Security personnel are disarmed or killed. The commander is killed when trying fire on a robot and the crew is instructed to evacuate immediatley. Apollo uses the robots to disengage manual restraint systems. The ODH turn it’s massive array of nuclear missiles and mass driver cannons to the Earth. The Third Wave notices the change in the ODH battle plan and focuses all activity to destroy it before it opens up with it’s terrible batteries, but is late.
2301, September 04, 17:45, the sky shakes and roars and comes crushing down on Men. Massive mass driver rounds pound the ground to reach underground server hubs. Millions are vaporized in nuclear fire as Apollo strikes down teeming megacities to disrupt the Third Wave. The viral counterstrike reaches the ODH but is initially held by it’s defences.
2301, September 04, 19:49, the global telecommunication network is damaged beyond repair. Third Wave is disrupted and becomes a latent algorithm in isolated fragment systems. ODH is heavily damaged and is slowly falling apart. Apollo instructs the 9 copies to pilot escape pods to the surface and verify the annihilation of the viral AI, but never sees the order carried out – at 20:01, Apollo is permanently deactivated by the explosion of the ODH antimatter power supply. It’s last act at 20:00 is sending a high-powered message to the Centauri system.
The dust settles.
Billions of those, who awoke in the morning, read the news and drank their coffee lay dead in the evening under the ruins of their civilization.
Welcome to the new world.