STRATAGEM Chapter 32
STRATAGEM by Joshua Graham
THE MORNING OF
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRIMARY STOOD ALONE in the situation room surrounded by a fleet of television screens on the wall and multiple computer monitors below them. Inhabiting the body of President Mercer felt more and more natural, though the neuropathway latency stilled perturbed him. With his hands on the computer monitors though, he sensed a far more efficient flow of information through hundreds of thousands of agents deployed across the planet.
It had taken precious days for the advance team to infiltrate members of the Athena crew and study how humans lived, communicated, traveled, and transacted. What humans lacked in neuro-electrical efficacy, they made up for in their interconnected electrical information networks through which all of the colony members could travel and communicate.
As neuroelectric beings, it was easy for them to travel through the humans’ power lines and internet devices. Wireless communication was still a challenge, but since practically every human in their “civilized” world maintained constant physical contact with some sort of electronic device, widespread infiltration would be simple.
The chances of building the communications array through the infiltrated bodies were uncertain, but there was no other choice. This was the only means and hope of contacting the home world and request they launch a rescue mission. And that must happen in the next few weeks before Mercer and all the colony expended the entire planet’s human population.
A signal from the groups in the test area alerted him.
Infiltration had begun.
Though agents had already taken their positions on every continent, the first wave would activate in New York City. Human case reactions would determine how quickly they could infiltrate the rest of the planet’s population. Never had they needed to infiltrate an entire world in so short a time. Complications were not an option.
The reports flowed through:
Third Group: Manhattan power grid passageway secured
Second Group: Initial infiltration 98% successful. 4 deaths
“Proceed with Phase 2,” Mercer said.
Seventh Group: Phase 2 complete. Zero deaths. Most cases were not yet awake from nocturnal rest cycles.
Tenth Group: Phase 3 standing by. Ready to traverse local power lines.
“Proceed with Phase 3.”
On the surveillance monitors, the streets of New York’s Upper West Side slowed to a halt for about three seconds. Human pedestrians froze in place as colony agents infiltrated them all, taking care not to fully commandeer their cognitive functions and risk overloading their fragile neural systems. During the next few minutes, the cases would return to a semi-conscious state but retain no memory of the infiltration effects on them or their surroundings. The goal at this stage was to incubate and remain dormant until all phases were complete.
Sixth Group: Minor complications: Airline pilot infiltration failed. The case experienced catastrophic arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death. Engaging autopilot.
“Negative, Sixth Group,” Mercer replied. “We don’t want the humans to investigate the pilot’s cause of death. It may raise suspicions. Let the plane crash and incinerate all the cases aboard. Take your positions within the wiring of its electrical system until you make contact with first responder cases on the ground.”
Sixth Group acknowledged.
Within a minute, a large 747 careened into the ground in Central Park West, detonating in a massive fireball. Unfortunate. The pilot’s fatal cardiac reaction to infiltration had to have been an anomaly.
About ten minutes into Phase 3, all groups were now reporting successful infiltration of human cases. Tenth Group reported some unexpected latency through some of the city’s more antiquated power lines, but otherwise good throughput for reaching all the humans in the area.
Today’s final test was rapid deployment and infiltration through residential and commercial power lines. The target would be public facilities such as mass transit, shopping centers, hospitals, restaurants, and theaters. Mercer gripped the edges of the two main computer monitors. “All groups: Commence Phase 4.”
Five minutes elapsed. All seemed to be going as projected—successful transmission and infiltration widespread.
Third Group: Reporting anomalous infiltration issues. Investigating…
“What is the nature of the complication?”
Resistant to infiltration.
“Are you certain?”
“How many subjects?”
One, if at any.
“This could be serious. Isolate it.”
With so many cases, it is difficult to ascertain which specific one it is. It could just be a mistake in our reporting. In any case, it would only be one test subject.”
“Mercer nodded. “Understood. Nevertheless, keep me apprised.”
We have our best detection agents on it right now. Should we discontinue Phase 4?
“Absolutely not. Continue your investigation. If you can isolate any infiltration resistant subjects, we must isolate it and bring it in for examination. We cannot risk the humans finding a means of immunization or we’re doomed.”
The mere possibility troubled Mercer. If indeed there was one such resistant human, it must be removed from the equation. However, if more of them existed it could prove even more problematic.
Mercer reached out to the entirety of the colonial population. “All groups. I am issuing a new directive: Seek out and isolate any infiltration resistant humans. Do not destroy their cases, we must study them. Continue all mission-critical operations but make this your top priority.”
Throughout the remainder of the day, positive reports came in. The plane crash, as well as other electrical catastrophes resulting in death and destruction of property, were easily explained by stories ranging from rodents to terrorists. Humans were all too ready to believe explanations that confirmed their biases and therefore accepted whatever the media told them. If the issue was socio-political, even better. Just put out conflicting theories which they could use as evidence and these primates would become so preoccupied with defending their own opinions and attacking opposing ones, they would not even notice the massive infiltration taking place while they bickered.
The sun descended behind the DC skyline. Mercer took comfort in all the positive reports which paved the way for all the other infiltrations throughout the world to begin. A few more tests in the United States, and then Europe and Asia. By the end of the week, the entire globe would be infiltrated and the colonized human cases would begin work on the subspace communications array.
Everything was going according to schedule.
There may be hope after all.
As long as there were no serious threats of resistance and immunity.
First Group: All phases complete and successful. However, we have detected two instances of resistance in different geographical locations, but genetically linked.
Mercer’s heart rate increased. He labored to breathe. Merely a physiological reaction to emotional stimuli. Primary willed Mercer’s case to remain calm. It would pass. “First Group, can you isolate them?”
Yes. But we don’t know the extent of the effect their resistance has on other infiltrated cases in their proximity.
“Proceed with caution. We need the element of surprise. Do you know their identities?”
A pause drew more of the anxious physical responses from Mercer. “Well?”
Human siblings: Derek and Sabine Storm.
Joshua Graham is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, winner of the International Book Award and Forward National Literature Award. His thrillers include DARKROOM, LATENT IMAGE and BEYOND JUSTICE, and TERMINUS. Graham's works have been characterized as thought-provoking page-turners.
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