Sixteen Bits Online

JUNE 1996

A Strange Message

by Cliff Manley

This is an e-mail message I found on my server the other day....

Hello, let me introduce myself. My name is Coll. My story begins a long time ago.

I decided to leave home at the age of consent. My parents agreed that would be a good idea. Our homes are limited in structure and my siblings were growing.

The idea didn't, at first, appeal to me. However, after a particularly nasty, knock down, gouge 'em out, kick him in the goollies type fight with my younger brother, it was time to leave.

Next door lived my best mate, Kam. After some, not inconsiderable persuasion. I convinced him to join me on my quest.

The trip to your planet was long and invigorating. The two of us travelled together for many of your millennia. However, that's another story.

When I first landed on your planet I thought it uninhabited. For that I apologise. But, as my tale grows you will, I believe, find the capacity to forgive me.

Your planet caught my attention for a number of reasons. The main one being it seemed to have a 'travel node' in place and operating (although erratically) but was uninhabited.

I stopped my momentum by utilising the travel node to stand off in space, watching for a minute to see if anybody showed. I thought maybe they had just stepped out for a minute or two. No one showed, so out of curiosity I landed.

What was really puzzling were my maps. This node didn't show on any of them. I decided to have a good look and study the place for a while. That's when I noticed the buzz. It was like someone tickling my toes. All this was strange, but not as strange as the house. It was a ghost house. When I noticed the house I believed the person running the transport node would come back. After a few days living in the ether I decided to take a look. Not only was it unlocked but it was new. It had never been lived in. Stranger and stranger...

But hell, what an opportunity. A lucrative business like a transport node. With a new house ready to move in to. Too good a proposition to pass up, so I took it.

I got on the network, called home and let everyone know about the new transport node. People started coming from all over to have a look at this remote section of the universe. You see, to build a node this powerful takes a lot of trading. We don't have any form of currency, but we do have a barter system, the main coin is our life force. It's the only thing we have to call our own. As a matter of fact, you'd probably call us either 'cannibals' or 'vampires'. We trade in our own 'lifeforce'.

Then not long after it all started to happen I noticed something even more strange. The node was actually changing, growing, and I couldn't work out why or how. I did figure this was causing the buzz though. I wasn't alarmed, but it was particularly annoying because it changed the way the node focussed. All I seemed to be doing was retune it to be reliable.

I contacted some fellow node operators to see if they had experienced anything similar. The standard answer was "Sometimes you got to fiddle with it a bit, but not very often. It usually looks after itself."

That's when I really started to look at the way the node was built. It was the standard form of construction. Main power generators, linked to secondary generators, forming a grid designed to focus the energy from within.

It was definitely the secondary generators. Their lack of consistency was making life uncomfortable.

My thoughts turned to fixing it. Monitoring the whole thing seemed to be the answer. Of course, that meant no business for a while, but trade had been good and I could afford to shut down for few days.

Tracing the power fluctuations, I discovered the most unsettling part of this whole episode. Not only were the generators shutting down and starting up by themselves but new ones were being added all the time. My grid was getting more and more powerful. I liked that idea. I didn't like not knowing why...

I decided to try something most technicians never ever bother to do. I monitored the actual power pulses as they modulated along the grid. That's when I discovered the language. It was a very basic language. It seemed to be "binary", the addition of ones and zeros. Upon analysis I discovered the generators where actually communicating with each other. Now things were getting quite bizarre.

I talked to some techs again, we were becoming good friends. None of them had ever encountered anything like it before. Jem and Kell, two of the nearest techs came over to join in the analysis.

We all agreed, after some quiet study, that it was not only different but very efficient. They decided to return to their generators and try to duplicate it. Their advise was to try to focus the potential of the generators, it would probably be the most powerful node in the universe. Kell suggested I start with a detailed examination of just one of the smaller ones at the extreme end.

That's when I noticed you, my friend. What exactly are you? Why are you using my generators? I don't really care, however I give you fair warning. Your interference is not welcome. Please cease your manipulation of my travel node, or I will be forced to take further action.

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