Yeah, yeah, yeah, turkey and football. And writing!
The muse has been kind today. At approximately 3,000 words a day for today and the next four days, I can make the 50,000 word goal.
While I normally put in a lot of internal links to previous, related posts here, I won’t be doing that for what I hope will be this year’s thirty NaNoWriMo posts. If you have jumped into or stumbled onto this story in mid-adventure, there are plenty of other ways to navigate around the site to find previous installments. Actually doing so is left as an exercise to the student.
CHAPTER TWELVE (concluded)
Those movement characteristics had gotten the attention of the authorities, but they didn’t match the kind of movement that Hōkū had described. Digging deeper into the military data, Sherman started looking for what the law enforcement bots might have taken as noise.
Sherman had learned quickly that a great advantage he had over almost all of the bots and monitoring programs in the system was his ability to be flexible and see what the bots were not able to see. Sherman had learned this after reading studies of how vision in living creatures was pre-programmed by biology to see certain things and to ignore most things outside of that subset. This was necessary in order for the human brain, or the brain of any other creature, to be able to process and form an internal model of reality from a deluge of visual data that would otherwise overwhelm the brain.
Thus there were many demonstrations of optical illusions, con men, and visual tricks that could be played on humans. The classic example in non-humans used frogs, which were pre-programmed to see flies as food. If there were flies present but they did not act and move like flies, a frog could starve to death while being surrounded by food. The frog would simply be unable to “see” the flies, with a filter being built into the connections between the eye, the optic nerve, and the brain. To the frog, the flies that weren’t moving or acting like flies literally could not be perceived or recognized, and therefore did not exist in the frog’s internal version of reality.
All bots and monitoring subsystems did similar processing in order to remain functional while not getting swamped by an overwhelming amount of input data. Thus a boat that moved and acted the way that a military, anti-smuggling, anti-piracy bot expected it to was recognized as a boat and flagged for further investigation. A boat moving differently literally did not exist to the bot.
But Sherman was no bot.
Looking at the raw data, Sherman began to sweep the four-dimensional area and time array for Kolohe’s estimated location. It took several minutes for the enormous amount of data to be filtered and searched, but when finished, out popped two boats acting erratically.
Now that he knew what he was looking for, Sherman began tracing the ships’ movement back to their origins. It was pretty much as Hōkū had described. The ships had come out of one of the small, remote Hawaiian Islands two weeks earlier and separated by a few hundred miles. They had headed generally southwest, zig-zagging back and forth. Finally they had stopped and turned east, heading straight toward the last location Sherman knew of for Kolohe and his pod.
Once the ships approached they began to move in synchronization with each other, shifting from side to side every few hours. Then, in the early afternoon five days ago, they had each done a one hundred and eight degree turn to the west and sped off.
Sherman was at least glad to see that the ships were still moving steadily westward. They presumably wouldn’t be doing that if they had captured or killed Kolohe.
Now that he knew what the ships were doing, Sherman needed to know how they were doing it. Dolphins could be found in almost all oceans of the world between the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. But how did one find one particular dolphin? Sherman didn’t know of any way for it to be done, but it was being done, so someone had figured it out.
Where had they come from? The island where they had started was owned by the United States government and part of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge. A quick check of the common satellite views showed it to be barren, with barely enough land above water to hold a football field.
Sherman could worry about that later. For now, he needed to find a way to stop those ships. They were travelling less than ten degrees north of the Equator, so there were plenty of opportunities for them to be in contact by satellite with whoever was in charge of their mission. He started to scan through the transmissions being received and relayed by the various geosynchronous platforms overhead.
An hour later this search had turned up nothing. If any communications had been sent or received in the last twenty-four hours, it hadn’t gone through any of those channels.
Was it possible that they were operating on their own, without any guidance from a home base of some sort? Unlikely.
Sherman started a routine to cross reference the ships’ positions with anything in the air or space above them. There was always something above everyone, even near the Equator in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so Sherman started sifting through that data looking for a pattern.
It finally emerged, members of a fleet of small cubesats that had been privately launched years earlier. The launch and the cubesats were all registered to a shell company, which in turn was a subsidiary of another shell company, which in turn was part of another. That line of investigation would wait as well, although Sherman felt sure it would lead to the same group of interest as the ships’ site of origin.
The communications coming from the ships to the cubesat fleet was heavily encrypted, but that didn’t matter. Sherman didn’t need to decode them, he just had to know how to imitate them well enough to get access. Looking at the current cubesats overhead and those coming up next, he began to probe for their communications channel.
Once he found it, it didn’t take long to hack in and get access. Whoever was behind all of this had no reason to think that they would ever be found, let alone hacked into.
Once it, it was obvious that he was in the right place. These ships were hunting Kolohe and they were very close. Kolohe had been running hard for days and had to be nearing complete exhaustion. He was slowing and the hunters were almost on him.
Sherman had always been overcautious about taking overt actions in systems that he had hacked into. He was a professional like no other in gaining access, retrieving information, and getting out without leaving any trace. But information wouldn’t do him or Kolohe any good at this second. Sherman needed to act.
Quickly he put together a package, downloaded it to both ships, and exited the connection. In seconds, both ships’ computers began a high-speed upload of all data onboard, sending it through secure channels back to Sherman. Once the data dump was finished, the systems shut down the ships’ engines, disabled all controls, and deleted all data, programs, and operating systems.
The ships were dead in the water, unable to steer, and unable to call for help. That should keep Kolohe safe.
“What do you mean, you’ve lost contact with both ships?” asked Stover, not sounding pleased with either the interruption or its nature.
“I don’t have an explanation yet, sir,” Winston said, “but we lost all communications with both of the ships tracking Kolohe over an hour ago. All attempts to reach Mr. Lewis through our normal, private channels have been unsuccessful, as well as efforts to reach him through radio, commercial satellites, or other backup channels.”
“Yet another failure in one of your assignments, Mr. Winston?” asked Suni. “Given your issues with tracking down and capturing Kolohe, one might almost begin to wonder whose side you are on.”
“I’m sorry if my performance has not met your standards, ma’am, but I don’t know of any reason to suggest that I am either incompetent or a traitor. I am reporting our status to Mr. Stover with the most accurate information I have and doing so in a timely manner, as he has ordered. The accurate information right now is that we don’t know exactly what happened out in the middle of the ocean over a thousand miles away, and I would prefer not to speculate in the absence of any facts.”
“You don’t have any clue what’s going on, do you? Were they attacked? Did someone send out cruise missiles for some reason, or torpedo them? Was there a storm, a typhoon, a whirlpool? Could they have been hit by some other kind of freak natural phenomenon, a rogue wave, a water spout? Could our whale allies turned traitor on us?”
“Suni, please,” said Stover. “The situation is difficult enough without unnecessary sparring between the two of you.”
“We’re looking at all of the possibilities, ma’am, but we don’t see any sign of a storm or an attack. We were receiving data right up until the moment they went silent and radar readings from both ships are clear.”
“Have the ships been damaged or destroyed?” asked Stover. “Have the crews been killed or injured?”
“We don’t know, sir. In fact, we don’t even know if they’ve met with a problem or something has simply rendered them unable to communicate. Out of an abundance of caution, I’m sending a plane to search and I’m trying to get updated satellite imagery as soon as possible. I also have dispatched one of the large cutters from the perimeter guard to the area, but even at maximum speed it will be two days before they can get there.”
“Mr. Winston, what are the odds that something is causing both ships to be unable to communicate with us at the same time?”
“The odds of that are extremely small given the redundant systems in place on both ships, but we can not rule out some sort of larger phenomenon that could be affecting the area. For example, if there were a solar storm of sufficient size, it could knock out their ability to communicate with our cubesat system as well as interfere with long distance radio communications.”
“Is there such a solar storm going on?”
“No sir, there is not, nor do we have any sign that anyone else is having issues with their communications network. I did not offer that as an explanation, only as an example of the type of thing that could conceivably cause both ships to go silent when they were still functional and safe.”
“I understand. And what of Kolohe? Did they catch him yet?”
“As of the time we lost contact Mr. Lewis, said they were close, within a few miles, but had not yet captured him.”
Stover turned to look out of the giant picture window. Here the sun was getting ready to set as the final rays of sunlight pierced the water, the deeper water turning dark as night approached. There was no sign of any of their dolphin allies, only a few stray fish darting in and out of sight.
“Mr. Winston, use whatever resources you need to get answers as quickly as possible. I want Kolohe, but I also will not accept any kind of attack on our operations. Our mission is a holy one and we must not allow anything to stand in our way.”
“Yes, sir, I understand.”
“If something catastrophic has occurred, unless you can prove to me it was the most unlikely and bizarre accident in the last millennium, I require that you immediately find who is responsible. The timing of this is troubling. We have gone through far too much to get to this point for us to lose control of the situation when we’re so close to the finish line.”
“We will find out who is responsible and we will deal with them,” Winston said.
“This is no time for half measures. This incident could be a sign that Kohole has allies far more powerful than we had thought. We can address that oversight in our intelligence at a more appropriate time. For now, we need to know what is happening, how to recover from it, how to prevent it from happening again, who did this, how they did it, how we can eliminate them, and how we can finally capture Kohole. Do you have any questions?”
“Our holy charge is to be the instrument of transition, the trigger that brings about the end of these times and the beginning of the next, more glorious, more perfect age. We can not fail. Go.”
Winston nodded and left, keeping his face impassive and his pace measured, even after he was well out of the room. He knew how well these spaces were monitored and how dangerous it would be at this point to let anyone know how he truly felt about the revelation that he was working for a mad man.