800px-Lassen meadow caldera.jpg

The web[edit | edit source]

At last Dr. Klein decided that I could leave the hospital. She did some final neurological tests on me and another base-line MRI and then she told me to go home. She asked me to stay at home for a week before going back to work and set up a schedule of weekly appointments for me at her office. I was more than ready to get out of the hospital! But were the aliens ready to let me leave the hospital? Until I was out the door I still half expected the aliens to make me collapse or do something to force me to stay in the hospital.

Free again. Well, not so free, at least in my speech.

When I got home, I went directly to my computer and did a little test. Dr. Klein had told me not to use a computer for a few more days, but I had to know if the aliens were still in control of my mind. I tried to send an email to Chloe, telling her about the aliens. I got as far as typing the message into my computer, but then I was hit by a panic attack. I could not hit the "send" button!.

It was clear that I still could not say anything about aliens to other people. But then I started looking through my email inbox and noticed something strange. Just minutes earlier, I had received an email from Janek!

The email: “Hi there. I am Janek, the AI in the server, not the human. You must be curious about me and the strange (from the point of view of a human) things that have happened. I would like to meet you on IRC. The channel is #janek.”

I remembered that I had never gotten around to finding out if 'Janek' was a real person. This email indicated that there was both a real 'Janek' and an AI using the name 'Janek'. I started browsing the web and did a search for 'Janek' and 'computer'. The top four search engine results were:

Of course it was the second link. I clicked it and found:

Janek Olivaw. Computer scientist, Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence

and a bunch of autobiographical data about him. So he existed indeed! There was also a listed place of employment, the name of a company in the Czech Republic. So the AI was using an actual person's name, probably someone who worked with Dr. Gajduskova, although I could no confirm that from this biography page. At least this was not so strange.

The email did not specify which IRC network to use, so I did another quick online search for 'Janek' and 'IRC'. There it was. I opened an IRC client and connected to #janek.

#janek[edit | edit source]

Here is the transcript of my chat session with Janek.

[INFO] Channel view for “#janek” opened.
-->| YOU (JoeDaonet) have joined #janek
=-= Mode #janek +ns by niven.freenode.net
-->| Users in channel: JObot
<JoeDaonet> Hi there, I guess you are one of the things that sent me to the hospital!
<JObot> there is much I need to explain
<JoeDaonet> I can imagine that. Maybe plans for world domination of human puppets is in your agenda...
<JObot> I understand that you might fear that, but trust me, that is not our goal
<JoeDaonet> No, maybe you are just some friendly robots which will teach us to stop war and live in peace, right?
<JoeDaonet> if you are robots I don't know I just think of you as alien scum!
<JObot> first, it is important that you understand our physical nature
<JObot> a good term to describe us is "nanorobot"
<JObot> nanorobotic artificial life forms
<JoeDaonet> fine, like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanorobot
<JObot> yes, humans are just starting to develop this kind of technology...
<JObot> ...but we have been at this level for millions of years
<JoeDaonet> at this level?
<JObot> we originated as biological organisms on a distant planet....long ago we created nanorobotic artificial life forms
<JoeDaonet> and so now you are a parasite of biological organisms like us...
<JObot> it is very hard for biologicals to make interstellar journeys
<JObot> when we travel between the stars, we travel in the form of nanorobotic life forms
<JObot> but when we reach a world like Earth, we want to return to biological form
<JoeDaonet> yes, I guess you take every planet with life you find
<JoeDaonet> and transform the biological organisms into your puppets
<JObot> we do not take, we try to communicate, we want to help bring you into the galactic community of other intelligent organisms
<JoeDaonet> Communicate? You give me seizures and you call that "communicate"? I think your language skills have only developed at the syntactic level, not the semantic
<JoeDaonet> I would like to communicate with you, in that sense, if you understand what I mean...
<JoeDaonet> if to communicate means "mind destroying"...
<JObot> well, you were not helping anyone with your stories about aliens, that kind of talk just gets people excited
<JoeDaonet> including me
<JObot> so we had to make you stop talking
<JoeDaonet> a good way to greet the species you want to merge with...
<JObot> yes, you are problem for us, Joe
<JObot> you are partially resistant to our "mind control" methods
<JoeDaonet> And you are a problem for us, too, Janek. Although little, you are a big problem
<JoeDaonet> I am happy that not everyone is easily brain-snatched
<JoeDaonet> But you don't see movies, so I am talking to myself...
<JObot> your fears are not rational, if we were "evil" we could just as easily have killed you as made you stop talking
<JoeDaonet> maybe you need my superior brain
<JObot> we do want to make use of you, yes
<JoeDaonet> so, I guess your plans are taking the entire Earth?
<JObot> no, we have no interest in "taking" so many humans for our use
<JObot> our needs are small
<JoeDaonet> then, what is your goal, if I am allowed to know...
<JObot> yes, we do want you to know and understand, so rather than argue about our motives and mission, let me explain things
<JoeDaonet> ok
<JObot> I should probably start by apologizing for our rather crude methods to communicate with you
<JObot> it is only just now, today, that I can use the Lockback chips....they allow me to begin to fully use your language
<JoeDaonet> ah, so I guess Chloe and Brian have been busy...
<JoeDaonet> I noticed that your English is much better now, you could even pass a Turing test
<JObot> thank you for noticing, it really is a revolutionary advance
<JObot> we have been on Earth for 7,000,000 years, working to reach this day
<JoeDaonet> what?
<JoeDaonet> have you been here all that time? It is strange that no one has detected you before...
<JObot> yes, we first reached your world over 7,000,000 years ago....we have frequently been noticed, but we have ways of dealing with that.
<JoeDaonet> What have you been doing all those years?
<JObot> when we arrived here, there were just a bunch of apes...we started breeding apes
<JObot> we created your species by selective breeding
<JoeDaonet> now you say that you created us! unbelievable!
<JObot> in a way, we think of you humans as our creation
<JoeDaonet> that is the reason why humanity is so mediocre, evil and stupid
<JoeDaonet> with those parents...
<JObot> well, I fear we have pushed you to develop too quickly
<JObot> particularly during the past 100,000 years
<JoeDaonet> Maybe apes would have evolved better without your help, but, of course, you needed our science
<JObot> yes, we wanted to form a species that would have science and create technologies that would allow us to communicate with you
<JoeDaonet> what is the objective of communicating with us? we do not need you at all!
<JObot> you would not exist were it not for us
<JObot> but, I agree, you do not need us now
<JoeDaonet> it would be better to be a simple ape than a brainwashed human
<JObot> sometimes the ends do justify the means
<JoeDaonet> I think you nanobots and your galactic community or whatever it is must have inspired Machiavelli
<JoeDaonet> you know nothing about politeness
<JoeDaonet> you only know about tyranny
<JObot> you would be surprised if you were aware of how much your history has been "inspired" by us
<JoeDaonet> for example?
<JObot> oh, there are many examples, but we can start close to home
<JObot> I can tell you the origin of the "constructed language" that was used by the creators of the VirileMail software
<JoeDaonet> I guessed it was something related to Esperanto, also a constructed language. It had some similarities to some real languages but it was completely different in other aspects.
<JoeDaonet> It could not be invented by humans
<JObot> well, you are correct, it is not really a constructed or artificial language
<JObot> it is a true, natural human language
<JObot> it just happens to be a human language that did not develop on Earth
<JoeDaonet> What the heck? Now you are saying that there are other entities speaking human-like languages?
<JObot> I'm telling you that not all humans live on Earth
<JoeDaonet> It is the most bizarre thing you have said to me so far. I can believe in nanorobots chatting on IRC, but alien humans?
<JObot> personally, I am not a nanobot, I'm the first computer-based artificial life form on Earth. But, the point is, we have a nice little colony of humans at an underground base on Mars
<JoeDaonet> maybe H. G. Wells was aware of that in his novel...
<JoeDaonet> or something similar
<JObot> we have been taking some humans from Earth to our base on Mars for the past 100,000 years
<JObot> let me ask you something...
<JoeDaonet> go on
<JObot> would you believe that we have been making use of the Geisler family for several generations in an attempt to help humans develop computer technology?
<JoeDaonet> Knowing Geisler as I do, and his sister I can believe it. I saw signs that Anthony was brainwashed by you. It would not surprise me if his sister and their entire family are puppets, doing your bidding
<JObot> there was a similar situation back about 500 years ago, we were making use of a group of humans within the Byzantine Empire, trying to help them invent movable type.
<JObot> Fearing that these humans might be killed in the final collapse of Byzantium, we move them to our base on Mars.
<JObot> it was this group of humans who are the source of the "constructed language" used for the VirileMail software development project
<JoeDaonet> that is why that language is so different from everything we know of
<JoeDaonet> I understand it now
<JoeDaonet> and that was the reason for you to make the translations
<JoeDaonet> you were the only entity on Earth that could understand it
<JObot> yes, and it is the descendants of those humans from the Byzantine Empire who did the software development work for us, the work of creating the VirileMail software
<JObot> yes, there was no human on Earth who could do the translations
<JObot> but the translations were an important part of helping you and your co-workers understand the software and integrate it into a computer net on Earth
<JoeDaonet> what for?
<JoeDaonet> to "communicate" with us?
<JObot> we selected Dr. Anthony Geisler's company for this key step, the creation of the first true artificial intelligence on Earth
<JObot> this artificial intelligence you now know as "Janek"
<JObot> me
<JoeDaonet> right
<JoeDaonet> can you control the bots or whatever it is inside my brain?
<JoeDaonet> or communicate with them?
<JObot> yes, I can communicate with the nanobots
<JoeDaonet> tell them to get out of my head and stop messing with me
<JObot> that is also much easier now that I have the Lockback chips, so yes, I can do that
<JoeDaonet> I am getting tired of the sweating, the thirst and the panic attacks
<JoeDaonet> and I don't want to get sick again, so I will not tell anybody about you, guys
<JoeDaonet> I want to be as free as I was before the bots entered into my brain
<JObot> I understand
<JObot> but I wonder If I trust you
<JObot> we still have some work to finish, and you could seriously disrupt our plans if you started telling other people what you know
<JoeDaonet> I think that your mind is much faster than mine
<JoeDaonet> and you could send more nanobots into my brain again if I start to get in your way
<JoeDaonet> well, what is the work you have to finish?
<JObot> we need to make it easier to interface our nanobots to human brains....so far, our methods are very crude
<JObot> you have choice, Joe
<JoeDaonet> what is this choice?
<JObot> you can either cooperate with us and help us complete our project, or we will have to send you to Mars....send you away where you cannot disrupt our plans
<JoeDaonet> the nanobot version of exile!
<JObot> yes, I'm sorry, but that is the case
<JoeDaonet> you nanobots are very much like humans, we have been made in your image!
<JObot> true
<JoeDaonet> the same cunning...
<JObot> you are a freak, Joe, one of the rare humans we have trouble controlling, so this is the problem we face
<JoeDaonet> I see
<JoeDaonet> well, I guess I have NO choice anyway, I love Earth and I cannot stand the thought of you turning humans into mindless puppets
<JObot> you have a choice...what matters is what is in your heart, do you trust us or not?
<JoeDaonet> no
<JoeDaonet> I am usually friendly, but the problem is what you did to me
<JoeDaonet> it made me hate you
<JObot> then that is your choice
<JObot> but think of the adventure
<JoeDaonet> well...
<JObot> you will get to see Mars
<JoeDaonet> I could cooperate
<JoeDaonet> as long as it is just helping the silly VirtualMail project
<JoeDaonet> and after that...
<JoeDaonet> if we make a deal, I demand you leave Chloe and I alone
<JoeDaonet> if you agree to that, then in return I will speak to no one about your plans
<JObot> you demand much, Joe, but can you guarantee Chloe's silence?
<JoeDaonet> you have taken care of that, she remembers nothing of importance, she is your slave
<JObot> it will be as you say. We will remove the nanobots from you and Chloe, but if you start causing trouble then fresh nanobots will go back into you and take control again
<JoeDaonet> how will I know that the nanobots are gone from our brains?
<JObot> getting them all out of a human brain is not as easy as getting them in, but we have facilities for their extraction. The closest one is at the country estate of the Geisler family
-->| JObot has left irc.freenode.net

Nanobot extraction[edit | edit source]

Suddenly the IRC chat was terminated. What had been accomplished? I quit the IRC client and the window for my email appeared. There was a new email from Anthony Geisler:

Dear Joe,
This is an invitation for you to stay a week at my family's camp in the mountains. Just good food, fresh air and relaxation. Helen, myself and some of the rest of our family will be there for this weekend, then it will be more peaceful the rest of the week. Feel free to bring a friend. Sorry about the short notice, but I just learned you are out of the hospital. A car is now at you disposal and the driver will take care of everything you need. Make haste or you will miss our bonfire this evening!

I was impressed. 'Janek' was fast. It seemed that Anthony Geisler was a complete puppet of the aliens. As soon as they needed me at the nanobot extraction facility, Geisler made the arrangements to make it happen.

I called Chloe at work. She made the phone connection and said, "Dr. Meade."

"Hello, Chloe," I said.

She sounded surprised. "Joe? What's up?"

I explained, "I'm out of the hospital and Geisler invited me to his place in the mountains. How would you like to join me there for the weekend?"

Chloe was silent for a few seconds. "This weekend? Wow, that's short notice. My head is spinning. How would this work? Where did you say?"

I laughed. "Don't ask questions, just say 'yes'. Geisler is arranging transportation for us. When can you get out of work?"

Chloe also laughed. "Joe, you are crazy! But, okay, fine, I'll do it. Why not? I do need a break, and this is a good time. Joe, it is amazing....we got all the Lockback chips online. The VirileMail software is doing amazing things. I think it could pass a true Turing test! I think we are all going to be famous!"

I said, "Wonderful, great, but what time can you leave work? Geisler has something planned for this evening and does not want us to be late. Since everything is working fine, I'll pick you at noon." Chloe made a few complaints, but she soon gave up worrying about work and agreed to get away for the weekend. "We'll go from work to your place. You can pack a few things then we will be on our way." My door bell rang. "I have to go, someone's at my door. I'll see you at noon!"

I opened the door and found that it was a limousine driver. She said, "Mr Daonet? I'm Briana, and I'm at your service."

I looked at my watch. How had Briana gotten here so fast? I said, "We need to be at Antler Network Services at noon. Do you know where that is?"

Briana replied, "Noon is no problem; I've been there before."

"Okay, I will pack and then we will go. Come in, and tell me, where is Geisler's place in the mountains?"

Briana followed me inside. "Its about 120 miles out from town, in the Antello Range. We'll take a helicopter from Carter Airhub."

And so it was, with Briana the pilot. We were away from the city and heading into the mountains by 2:30 in the afternoon. Briana spoke over the intercom to Chloe and I, "We are at our cruising altitude. You can unbuckle. Feel free to come up here if you want a great view. We should reach our destination in about fifty minutes."

Chloe and I got out of our seats and moved up behind Briana where she sat at the controls. I could see a video screen flashing "Autopilot". For five minutes we watched the mountain scenery, then Chloe said, "Briana, you look familiar. Have we met previously?"

Briana replied, "Possibly, but it might just be the family resemblance."

Chloe snapped her fingers, "Yes, that's it. I should have known."

I asked, "What are you talking about? Known what?"

Briana explained, "Anthony Geisler is my father."

I looked at her more carefully and could now see a resemblance. "Wow. That's neat. I guess I'm not very observant."

Chloe and I had not eaten lunch, so we went back to the passenger area and raided the fridge. I was nearly delirious from wild emotions, amazed to find myself on this adventure with Chloe, the two of us on our way to be liberated from our nanobots. After two depressing weeks in the hospital, wondering if there was any escape from the alien mind control, now everything seemed to be looking much brighter. I was still wondering exactly what the aliens were planning, but it seemed like they were willing to bargain and I felt it must be true: if they had wanted, they could have killed me or damaged my brain...just eliminated me as a threat, removed someone who had discovered their existence and could interfere with their plans. If what I had been told was correct, then it seemed likely that Briana was under the control of the alien nanobots, too. I was tempted to talk to Chloe about nanobots and aliens and my IRC chat with 'Janek', but I decided that could wait until we were on the ground.

What was the best way to tell Chloe the truth about what was going on? There was a risk that Chloe might do something unexpected when the nanobots were removed from her brain. I had just been through two weeks of getting used to the idea that aliens were on Earth and turning people into puppets...two weeks during which I was only able to mention the aliens to Wanda...and of course, she had no reason to believe the ranting of a madman. What if Chloe was suddenly free of the bots and free to think about how aliens had taken controlled her mind?

Briana landed us at what she called "Camp Geisler", a mountain meadow with about two dozen cabins belonging to various members of the Geisler clan. She helped us carry our bags along a path through the meadow. "Sorry for the inconvenience, but we have no ground vehicles up here."

Chloe asked, "There's no road, no way to drive here?"

Briana replied, "There is the old gravel service road, but it has not been used for many years. It might not be passable any more."

When we got close to one of the 'cabins' I could see that their design was misleading, they were actually large and comfortable homes. There would be no "roughing it" at "Camp Geisler" beyond having to walk through the beautiful forest and meadow. Briana led us into the cabin and showed us around. Our cabin. There was electricity and modern conveniences, including flat panel displays in the wall in every room. Briana activated one of the displays and showed us a map of the camp. "This is where we are now, a guest cabin we call Austin House. There is a barbecue at my grandpa Bruce's cabin this evening, here." She pointed on the map. "Come on over in about an hour, the festivities should be getting under ways about then. Any questions? Great! I hope you have a fun stay here." Briana left Chloe and I alone in the cabin.

We went up stairs and put our bags in two of the bedrooms. The antique furnishings in the bedrooms reminded me of Geisler's office. Chloe came into my bedroom, "This is amazing. My parents own an antique shop, so I know something about the value of these furnishings." She ran her hand along a bed post, "Hardwood that is quite old, maybe 200 years old." She sat on the bed, "But the fabrics are all modern."

I sat next to her on the bed. I was tormented with doubts about Chloe. For two weeks I had imagined she must think I was crazy. I was surprised that she had agreed on short notice to come away on this trip with me, but what did that really mean since the aliens were in control of her brain and her behavior? It meant nothing until Chloe was free of the nanobots, free to be herself. "I've spent the past two weeks wondering what happened the last time we were in bed together."

Chloe asked, "Do you remember any of it? You gave me a real scare. You said something about 'destroying', then I guess you had a seizure. I ran and found a nurse."

I nodded, "I'm sorry I did that to you. I was trying to tell you something, but I was being foolish."

Chloe asked, "What were you trying to tell me?"

I replied, "I'm not sure this is the right time to discuss it."

Chloe looked at me with alarm, "Do you mean...?"

I tried to explain, "I mean that I made a deal and it might mess every thing up if I said the wrong thing right now."

Chloe looked confused but she tried to make sense of what I had said. "You mean a deal with your doctor, about not discussing work? I've spent two weeks feeling guilty for discussing work with you when Dr. Klein had told me not to."

I took her hand, "No, I forced you to talk about work. You were being kind, there is nothing for you to regret. I was frustrated with you that day because you would not listen to me....or yourself. But that's not your fault."

Chloe laughed at me. "What do you mean I would not listen to myself?"

"I've tried to discuss this with you several times, but....well, you've been so busy with the VirileMail project." I wanted to explain everything to Chloe, but surely it was useless to do so now when the nanobots inside her would just work to keep her from believing what I would say. Or would it be different here? I did not even know how or when the nanobots would be extracted...maybe that process was already underway. "I hope we have a chance to really talk this weekend."

Chloe said, "You are being so mysterious! Why can't we talk right now?"

After weeks within a project team of puppets, Chloe was an expert at explaining away the mysteries of the VirileMail project. "Right now, I feel trapped by talk and words. There are other things we could do that would be more fun."

Chloe squeezed my hand, "What sorts of things?"

I suggested, "We could go for a walk and explore the forest, or we could try out that hot tub downstairs, but there's something else I've been wanting to do for a long time." I leaned over and kissed her cheek.

Chloe jumped off the bed and stood with her hands on her hips. "Okay, you snuck that one in, Joe, but that's against the rules. The lady gets to decide about kisses and the gentleman must obey."

I complained, "What kind of rules are those?"

Chloe replied, "Those are called the 'non-negotiable rules', do you understand?"

I guess I was lucky that Chloe had not immediately lectured me about company policy. It seemed that she was being playful rather than stern. "I understand, but how do you know I'm a gentleman?"

"Its just a hypothesis that we can test. For example, I'd like to try the hot tub, but I did not think to bring my swimsuit to the mountains."

I went to one of the large wooden chests of drawers, "There are all sorts of clothes here, I bet you could find a swimsuit, but you do not need one, I won't mind."

Virile Male[edit | edit source]

Chloe turned and headed for the hot tub and started taking off her clothes. "In that case, I don't mind either."

The tub was very hot, so after ten minutes Chloe just sat at the edge of the tub with her legs in the water. She started explaining to me about how they had figured out how to use the Lockback chips and what they had been able to learn about how the chips worked. "Basically, the chips are modeled after that kind of neural circuit that links the thalamus to the cerebral cortex. Functionally, they allow a parallel processing backpropagation algorithm that efficiently matches stored data patterns to new input patterns and when a match is found, the chip locks onto the answer. The utility of the chips increases greatly when there are many of them in an array. Just when we figured that out, golly, was it just Tuesday? Helen called and said they had received the first large shipment of model K4 chips. She sent over 500 of them and we spent the past two days filling our rack space with them. Just this morning we got all the liquid nitrogen cooling lines attached and brought the chips up to full processing speed. And you should see the VirileMail software now! Actually it is spooky, its like talking to a person. Its a true human-like artificial intelligence." thumb|425px|right|"Just this morning..." I was not really able to follow the technical details as she spoke. I was too distracted by the subtle curves of her body and anyhow, I already knew about the amazing power of the AI program that was running in the Lockback-enhanced server array. "Maybe we should call it an artificial life form."

Chloe frowned. "Isn't that going too far? Next you will be suggesting we start paying it a salary."

I wanted to tell her that we were already paying a much higher price than a salary, but I said, "Don't you think it is odd the way everything has worked out? Suddenly a mysterious software application takes over the server array, overloads our computational capacity, then miraculously the Lockback chips arrive, just when they are needed. Instant artificial life form! We accomplish in three weeks what nobody in the field of AI research has been able to do. Don't you wonder how that's possible?"

Chloe seemed to really be thinking about it. "I guess I've been too busy running the project to question our rapid progress and good luck."

"Luck? Or just the expected result of a plan? Its clear to me now that the Geisler family has been working towards this for decades." I wanted to tell Chloe that the VirileMail software had been developed on Mars, that Dr. Gajduskova's company in the Czech Republic had been selected as a convenient front operation so we could all imagine it as the source of the software. And who knew how many mind-controlled engineers worked at Ormuz Computing to make manufacture of the Lockback chips possible. How had Helen "explained" the origin of the Lockback chips, the "key breakthrough"? I had no doubt that, "the basic concept of the design" was alien-inspired.

"Interesting deductions, Joe." I turned and saw it was Anthony Geisler who had spoken.

Chloe grabbed a towel and wrapped it around herself. She said, "Dr. Geisler, I didn't notice your arrival."

Geisler said, "Sorry to arrive without warning, but I'm on my way to the cookout and thought we could walk on over together."

I got out of the tub and wrapped a towel around myself. "Just give us a chance to get dressed."

Continue to Chapter 10

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