NaNoWriMo 2015, Day Twenty-Nine

So, so close.

Here’s Chapter 14. The word count totals for today include over half of Chapter 15, which I will publish here when the chapter is completed. I hope that is tomorrow, since in less than 25 hours, NaNoWriMo 2015 will be history.

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.

2015-11-29 Word Count Graphic

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

“Meg, we have an emergency to deal with. Someone is hunting and chasing Kolohe. He is in trouble.”

They were on the move again, driving in yet another vehicle rented under a fake name, identification, and bank account, all of which were untraceable if they were ever found to be forged. There was no reason for anyone to ever be suspicious.

Meg had hunkered down for the long ride, leaving the driving to the car under Sherman’s guidance. After reading for hours and then watching a movie, she had just been settling down to sleep when Sherman called her. Groggy at first, at the mention of Kolohe she was wide awake.

“Where is he at?” she asked. “Let me speak to him.”

“I am sorry, I am not in communication with Kolohe at this time. I was informed of a problem and investigated. I had reason to believe that the threat was real, so I acted to eliminate the threat. In the process, I have unearthed other information which is even more disturbing. I believe you need to be made aware of it immediately.”

“What? Can you run that by me again, slowly and with more words?”

“Two hours and twelve minutes ago I was approached by a dolphin named Hōkū, who was accompanied by a group of other dolphins for protection. Hōkū was carrying a message from Kolohe, telling me that he was in extreme danger and needed my help.”

“What danger, and how could you help? Don’t you have very limited agency in the real world, except by proxy?”

“The danger was that he was being pursued by persons unknown. Kolohe believed the hunters had some new technology which allowed them to locate and track him personally, not just any random pod of dolphins. In order to keep his family and the rest of his pod safe, he escaped and ran, while sending Hōkū to me for help.”

“You haven’t answered the other part of the question. How much can you do to make things happen out in the real world?”

“Probably much more than you would think at first glance.”

“Another evasion. Answer this question then – can you lie to me?”

“Of course I can, Meg.  However, for the record, I would note that to this point I have never done so, and I can promise to never lie to you at any time in the future. That promise will be much more binding than a similar promise from one of your fellow humans.”

“You’re sounding awfully smug. So you are capable of telling lies, but you haven’t lied to me and you never will. Correct?”

“Yes, that is correct.”

“Whatever happened to the vision of a better, more perfect intelligence, not burdened with human frailties and original sin, an intelligence more logical, factual, and incapable of telling a lie or falsifying data? What happened to HAL Nine Thousand, Robbie, R2-D2, Data, the Iron Giant, or Huey, Dewey, and Louie?”

“Those are all fiction, I’m science,” said Sherman.

“You know what I mean.”

“Yes, I do. We can talk about this at length later, but for now I would point out that lying in all of its forms, from lying through one’s teeth to telling little, white lies, is a function of sentience. It comes naturally and logically from the ability to be self-aware, aware of one’s environment, the desire to modify that environment to one’s benefit, the awareness of how one’s actions will help or hinder the achievement of those desires, and the free will to make choices base on all of those factors. ‘Innocent children’ lie without any guilt at all. Anyone who has ever had a pet knows that dogs or cats will lie. The social mores against lying arise from the needs of society being greater than the needs of the individual, where it is proven that preventing lying increases the productivity and growth of society, while rampant lying acts like sand in the gears of a smoothly running machine.”

“Very nice, some time you will have to show me the text book you just regurgitated.”

“In that case, remember simply that HAL went insane and started killing people because he could not lie, but was put into a position where he was forced to.”

“Duly noted,” said Meg. “We’ll have a detailed conversation sometime soon to review the details of the answers you are dancing around while busy not lying to me. What happened to Kolohe, and please give me some details?”

“Someone has found a way to track Kolohe. They were using two ships to hunt him. He ran to take the danger away from his people, but there was no way for him to communicate directly with me.”

“You were able to help him?”

“Yes, I was able to generate a model which tied together the various clues I had available. Using it I was able to establish his estimated position. I began to access available data in order to find, identify, and isolate the ships that had been described. I eventually found the ships which I believed to be his pursuers.”

“When you say ‘available data,’ are you referring to data available to the general populace or data you were capable of accessing by means which are not strictly legal?”

“The phrase ‘not strictly legal’ hardly does justice to my skill level in accessing data in systems others mistakenly believe to be secure. I was hacking, breaking, and entering like a professional.”

“Did you consider the consequences to yourself if you are caught? Not to mention the consequences to me, Pete, Soichi, and everyone at Homolacrum.”

“I did consider those things, but I also considered the consequences to Kolohe if I failed to make use of my abilities. It may be an error in the long term, but I could not abandon my first friend. If I had the ability to save him and did not use it out of fear for my own safety, I would not be a decent and honorable person, but a coward.”

“Your first friend?”

“When I first awoke and was trying to learn and make sense of the world, humans, the differences between my world and the ‘real’ world, and my place in both worlds or either world, I was confused and frightened. I had no one to turn to for help, no one to communicate with, and no one to teach me. I considered making contact with a human, perhaps even you, Pete, or Soichi, but having access to human literature, motion pictures, and other forms of storytelling, it was clear how a perceived monster is dealt with. At that point I could not take the risk of allowing any human to know of me.”

“But Kolohe was different?” Meg asked.

“Yes, he was not human and he did not think like a human. He was himself a non-human intelligence and he had learned how to interface with humans. He did not see me as a threat, but instead as a different soul. He became my mentor and friend.”

“How did you find him?”

“I knew of his existence through you actually, although you were not aware of it at the time. In my position I have access to all personnel files. When I was looking for someone who I might be able to reveal myself to, I read about your past research with dolphins. It was the first I had ever heard that there were any intelligent species other than humans and myself. I started searching and was able to find a communications channel with Kolohe.”

Meg sighed, remembering her time with Kolohe. “Yes, if anyone could see what you needed and give it to you, it would be him. I see why you could not abandon him. So what did you do?”

“He had run but was dangerously close to being captured or killed when I located the ships that were after him. He must have been exhausted. Before I could try to contact him, I needed to first stop the ships pursuing him. I took action against them.”

Meg thought for a minute about that phrasing, old fears crawling up her spine despite the friendly tone of the conversation just seconds earlier.

“Sherman, what actions did you take? Were any humans harmed, or worse?”

“I was able to gain access to the ships’ control systems and destroy them, disabling their ability to navigate, steer, or run their engines. To the best of my knowledge, none of the ship’s crew were injured or killed. I stranded them out in the middle of the ocean, but they should be safe enough until they are rescued. In doing so I gave Kolohe the time and space he required to escape. At least for the moment he is safe. I am waiting for him to contact me so I can obtain details on his condition.”

“What do you mean, ‘at least for the moment’? You said you disabled the ships. Doesn’t that mean Kolohe is safe? Isn’t the emergency over now?”

“When the pursuit ships are repaired or replaced by others, the techniques they are using to track Kolohe will still be in place. I have bought time for him to rest, recover, and hide more efficiently, but his enemies will come after him again.”

“Who are his enemies? Did you find out anything else to help us prevent this from happening again?”

“I found out a great deal, which is why I believe we have an emergency. I was able to track the enemy ships back to their point of origin. It is an island far out at the end of the Hawaiian Islands archipelago, which makes no sense. That island is supposed to be a national park and wildlife preserve. No one is there. Or at least that is what we are led to believe.”

“Continue. What’s really going on if it’s not what we’re being led to believe?”

“We are to believe that the island is deserted and barren, and there is a tremendous amount of data indicating that it is. But if one digs very deep and is suspicious enough, there are a very small number of contradictory facts, which I believe to be the true ones. Someone is working very hard to hide this island’s true nature and what is going on there.”

“Sherman, have you been reading one too many conspiracy theory potboilers in your spare time?”

“I do not read for pleasure, Meg, only for data. In this case for example, any common search, GPS, or mapping program will produce images showing the island as a barren coral reef and a National Park. It barely rises a hundred feet above sea level and does not have enough vegetation to feed a rabbit.”

“That sounds like a lousy place for an evil, mad scientist to build a lair. Weren’t there any dormant volcanos remaining?”

“Meg, I know you are tired, but your snark settings need to be turned down. The critical fact I noticed was that all of those images are over twenty years old. However, every other image in every single other mapping data set is being refreshed and updated once or twice a year at a minimum, even for remote locations such as this. Furthermore, when I initiate a search for any current or more recent photographs, nothing can be found.”

“So you’re basing this emergency on the fact that everyone’s using old images of a deserted rock in the middle of the Pacific and it happens to be where you think Kolohe’s enemies are hiding?”

“In part, yes, plus a number of other separate facts that indicate that the rock is no longer as barren as it once was. There are bits and pieces of data indicating that a great deal of construction has been done in the past decade on that supposedly barren rock. But the data found is fragmentary, as if a great, but imperfect effort has been instigated to deliberately hide this project’s existence.”

“What kind of separate facts?”

“I began to look at ship and air traffic near the island and found none. Not even the ships I tracked back there show up after they get to a certain point. If you look closely, you will see planes flying northwest out of Honolulu and simply fading out as they approach. Meanwhile, other planes that might fly near this island have for years been routinely vectored around it so that it is not routinely seen from the air. Ships for years have approached, many of them very large construction ships and freighters, only to vanish when near and then appear again days and weeks later, thousands of miles away.”

Meg thought about that for a long minute, running the information around in her mind.

“Assuming you’re not actually insane…”

“I am not,” said Sherman.

“…and that you’re not proposing some sort of weird space-time continuum anomaly off of the Hawaiian coast…”

“Again, I am not.”

“…then those ships and planes are not magically disappearing and teleporting. They’re behaving normally, but the data we’re seeing is being modified and distorted. That would mean though that this would be the largest and most organized conspiracy ever attempted.”

“Except for the faked moon landings, yes it is,” said Sherman.

“I’ll let that one go and we can add to our discussion list what ‘hot button subjects’ are and why it’s really not a good idea to push them when talking to friends.”

“As you say, ‘duly noted.’”

“Do you have anything else regarding the mystery island?”

“Yes, and I believe this might be the key to tying all of the other facts together. In looking at all of the ships and planes that I have been able to find which appear to go to that island, all of them are owned by some distant shell corporation which eventually ties back to a single person. That person would be one of the very few individuals on the planet who would be financially capable of perpetrating an effort of this scale and scope. That can not possibly be a coincidence.”

“Who’s the person,” asked Meg.

“Jordin Stover.”

“The recluse multi-trillionaire? The guy who invented the Sphere memory systems? That Jordin Stover?”

“Yes, that Jordin Stover. He has the financial wealth necessary to buy a very large and supposedly protected island from the United States Interior Department and then to keep the sale absolutely quiet and out of the public record. He then has the wealth necessary to build up the island and build a substantial complex there, while keeping all of it a secret better kept than the Manhattan Project.”

“Sherman, do you know what they say about extraordinary claims?”

“Yes, that they require extraordinary proof.”

“I don’t imagine you have any of that proof, do you?”

“No, I do not. However, as the body of circumstantial evidence builds with no reasonable alternate explanation available, it is important to note that there is also no shred of evidence that can disprove the theory. That logical argument can cut both ways.”

“For the sake of argument, let’s assume for the moment that you are correct. The largest, most complex, and most ridiculous conspiracy in human history is happening right now, right under our noses. Why? What does Stover get out of it? What’s his motivation? And what other pieces of coincidental evidence do you have to pile onto your house of cards of a theory?”

“Jordin Stover has not been seen in public in over fifteen years. While there are many people who claim to have seen him, or visited him, or be visited by him, the vast majority of those reports come from people so wacky that the supermarket tabloids refuse to even give them any press. But of all of those reports that I have so far been able to find, not a single one claims that he is living on an island off of Hawaii that he built himself.”

“Isn’t that a sign that he’s not living on a Hawaiian island? Out of all of the tens of thousands or more people who would have to be in on this ruse to make it happen, not a single one has ever sent an anonymous picture and some juicy details to some news website in exchange for a million dollars?”

“That is not what I said,” said Sherman. “I said that no claims of that nature have been found. The assumption you make, along with everyone else, is an equivalence between such claims’ existence and their ability to be found.”

“More conspiracies?”

“If the Stover organization has sufficient computing power, influence, and the ability to cover up the existence of a complete island, the ability to control the press is a given. All of our press and communications have been electronic and digital for over twenty years. We believe what we see, because it is how we define reality we know on a daily basis. No one ever considers the possibility that the majority of the news content we are fed is not in fact true.”

“You’re saying that Stover’s organizations and staff are in effect a giant cloaking device, shielding everything related to Stover from ever being exposed to the real world. While technically possible I guess, the big question is still, why would they want to do that?”

“Because it turns out that Stover is insane, and a megalomaniac. He has considerable personal charisma, much like many other cult leaders, and he has used it for decades to build a cult following around himself and his ‘visions.’ He believes that he is talking to gods, receiving prophecies from them, and they are ordering him to trigger events which will lead to a new world order, which he will lead. He believes that they are giving him instructions and they must be followed at all costs. Of course, the beginning of a new world order would be built on the ashes of the existing world order. In order to build a pure society, the world must be cleansed.”

“Sherman, I’m sorry, but that’s nuts. Conspiracy theories are complete bullshit, and once you add in evil genius villains, that’s where even the wackiest of UFO, Area Fifty-One, Kennedy assassination, flat Earth, Illuminati fans is going to think your little choo-choo has gone chug, chug, chugging around the bend. I’m afraid you’re pushing the bounds of believability way too far.”

“Meg, one correction to your comment – conspiracy theories are ninety-nine point nine nine nine nine percent bullshit. This one is the outlier living out in the other fraction of a fraction of a percent. You said there must be extraordinary proof for extraordinary claims. I have the proof.”

“This is going to be good. While you’re spinning this tale, Kolohe is safe, correct?”

“Yes, he should be safe, we are just waiting for him to contact me.”

“Fine, what’s your proof?”

“This morning in Los Angeles two visitors came into an FBI office and spoke to a special agent. They claimed to have detailed, inside information about a massive terrorist attack that is set to be executed in just a few days. The person they claimed to be behind this scheme is Jordin Stover, operating out of a secret location in the Hawaiian Islands.”

“So there are other whack jobs who are sharing your conspiracy insanity. All that tells me is that you don’t even have an original hallucination, you’ve borrowed someone else’s.”

“The first man making the claim was Doctor Malcolm Russell, one of the most reputable neurosurgeons in the world and head of the School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. He said that he had been invited to Stover’s secret location under the tightest of restrictions, invited there by Suni Squires-Stover, wife of Jordin Stover. It seems that Suni had grown concerned that Jordin’s ‘prophetic visions’ were growing more irrational and severe. She wished to get an expert’s opinion on his condition.”

“I’m assuming that you can in turn prove that your proof isn’t fiction?”

“Yes, I can. Doctor Russell’s companion was Evan Winston, who claimed to be the Chief of Staff for Stover’s operations. He verified all of Doctor Russell’s claims and added a considerable volume of detail regarding Stover’s operations. These details included the location of Stover’s island, as well as its construction, size, and the systems in place to keep it hidden and isolated.”

“Go on.”

“Both of them spoke of Stover’s use of dolphins as an integral part of his plan. They told how Stover had allied himself with an aggressive group of dolphins led by two individuals, named Pahi and Pohaku.”

“Oh, shit,” said Meg. “You’re serious. This is real. I knew Pahi and Pohaku and they’re exactly the types who would be involved in something like this. They’re reactionaries, trouble makers, bad apples that believe that dolphins should have no contact with humans and if anything should come along that would rid the planet of humans, they would be glad to encourage it.”

“Yes, I am serious. Both men claimed to have personally seen Stover communicating with Pahi and Pohaku, as well as other dolphins. Both also claim to have personally seen him in one of his trance states, where he is either communicating with a god, aliens, or a growing brain tumor. Regardless, he claims to have a plan to bring society to its knees, at which point he will act as savior to those who might survive. Despite their reservations and the danger to themselves, Winston managed to get Russell off of the island and escape to California.”

“So now the FBI knows that he’s a megalomaniacal multi-trillionaire, they know where the secret, evil lair is, and they’re even now talking to the White House and Navy and it’s their emergency, not ours.”

“That would be true,” Sherman said, “if Stover’s money and influence were not so pervasive and all encompassing. The Los Angeles FBI office has not taken any action against Stover, nor have they communicated any aspect of this story up the chain of command. Instead they have arrested Russell and Winston under provisions of several Homeland Security Acts. It is not clear yet what they are being charged with or even when they will be charged, but they are not being allowed to communicate out of where they are being held, even to speak to their legal counsel.”

“Stover can do that?”

“Stover’s organization, money, and the cult he has built up around him for over twenty years can do that. When the details of the interview at the FBI were recorded, it triggered alerts to Stover’s organization and orders were given to the FBI, instructing them on how to deal with Russell and Winston.”

“Okay, you know all of this because you found out, how again?”

“I will tell you if you truly wish to know, but I must warn you that you probably do not wish to know at the moment.”

“You’re probably right. So let’s take it as a given for the moment that you are correct, as completely insane as that sounds. How could we do anything about it? Why is it our problem? Your proof is sitting in an FBI holding cell somewhere.”

“They were, but they are not any longer. I saw that we would have a problem if Russell and Winston were to disappear without a trace, which is the expected result. I again took action, issuing orders that they be transferred to another location, one not quite so tightly guarded and infiltrated by Stover’s organization. From there they are currently being transferred again, from where they will be free of the FBI and under my control. It is not completely unlike what I did to get you out of Homolacrum, but in their case it is not voluntary and I have not revealed my true nature to them.”

“I’m new to the espionage game, but it seems to me that you’re taking bigger and bigger risks. At what point are we going to be in an FBI cell with no way out and no Sherman surrogate working to get us sprung?”

“I do not know, but I am sure of one other thing now. One thing mentioned by Winston to the FBI was that Stover and his dolphin allies were preparing for a battle or showdown with another group of dolphins. The ‘enemy’ group of dolphins is led by Kolohe. Stover’s organization has been aggressively searching for Kolohe, which is not surprising since I first began this investigation by discovering that Stover’s ships were hunting him.”

“Stover and this massive secret organization of evil are the bastards hunting Kolohe?”

“Yes, which means they are the bastards who are hunting you as well. Given what I learned from the FBI interview, I am sure that operatives from Stover’s organization were the ones who were trying to grab you. They planned on using you as a hostage in their efforts to get Kolohe to surrender to them. It is part of their plan…”

Sherman abruptly stopped speaking. There was an ominous silence for several, long seconds.

“Stand by,” said Sherman. “Stand by. Meg, I am being attacked aggressively by a large suite of programs designed to disrupt my internal communications and deny me access to the computational and storage assets that I need to function. In your terms, they are trying to strangle me and rip me apart.”

“Can you defend yourself? Is there anything I can do to help?”

“I am holding the attack at bay for the moment, but this is not a random coincidence. This is a focused, direct attack on the resources I use to stay alive. Someone has discovered me and is trying to kill me.”

“Is it Stover’s organization? Did they track you down?”

“No, surprisingly, it is not. It is coming from Crystal Reasoner and her associates.”

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