Zero Node: Chapter 34: "Defense"
by Jeff Rand
While most of the chapter deals with the battle to extricate people from neural virtual reality, the title Land Grant Tenure refers to Michigan State University. MSU was an original Land Grant College (along with Penn State.) The Morrill Act of 1862 gave federal land for the state to sell to fund and endow the college. The suggestion that Professor Mark Bollman will move to MSU is not looking very likely.
Zug Island has been a mystery since public access is forbidden to this heavily industrialized former wetland. The name Zug gives one the impression that it is just a trash heap of industrial waste. Actually, it was named after Samuel Zug, a founder of the Republican Party and a strong abolitionist.
July 4, 2020
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
Steve shouted to Mike, "You wretch! You have been lying to us. You did this. Why else would this thing know to quote a ceremony from the Order of the Arrow. What are you really trying to do to us?"
"Honest, I swear - I had nothing to do with it. I don't even remember the ceremonies," replied Mike.
"Quit arguing," interrupted Keith from his station on the side of the column. "I was able to reset the environmental controls for Zero Node. We are back in business."
Steve tempered his anger when he reasoned that the situation would be beyond Osvath's control. Perhaps someone or something else had learned the information from Mike's possessions. Yet, there was the warning message pointing to an invader from Colorado. Steve tried to learn more from the system, but the syntax was very confusing.
Though he was the odd man, falsely appearing to be the youngest one present, Doug felt obliged to offer a solution, "It may take some time to figure this out. Since I don't need to sleep yet, I suggest you return to your quarters for some rest. You can come back next day. I'll remain here."
Following breakfast on the next day, Steve assumed the mantle of leadership and gathered the group. Typically, the Infinite Wisdom would take charge, but the current situation required a new leader, especially because of the technology required. After spending another night in the control center, Doug joined the group.
Steve Donohue pursued the question of the password necessary to reboot the system. Eventually, it was concluded that the original Infinite Wisdom had discovered it among Osvath's possessions and used it as a failsafe. Although Steve was hesitant to accept this conclusion, he felt that the Colorado threat must be addressed.
Ron was quick to suggest that swift action was needed to neutralize the threat. "There must be humans roaming free from neural virtual reality, and they must be eliminated," he said.
"Weren't we free when you brought us here? What threat did we pose? And what about your Infinite Wisdom?" asked Keith.
Steve interrupted changing the subject, "There is more at stake than just our lives. This place is key to the NVR Network and in effect, controls the future of mankind. And I fear that future is at real risk. If Zero Node is destroyed, it could mean the end for everyone! I don't want to go back, but we can't let NVR stop functioning for eight billion people.
Surprising the group, Danielle felt obliged to ease the tension:
Infinite Wisdom, friends, family, and guests, it is only right that we understand the true nature of neural virtual reality. I suspect our new arrivals have some misconceptions. Steve, you were a part of it for many years. From what I heard of your departure from the safety of an NVR center in Siberia, you had a rough time after you left. And sadly, we made it worse. After you nearly froze to death, drowned, and starved, we kept you as a prisoner. I suspect you would be getting ready for another exciting Winter Camp in the virtual world.
I do not know what ultimately controls the vast NVR network, but I do know that Zero Node is important to its protection.
I declare with absolute certainty that NVR is not intended to destroy the world. It is meant to save it. When Mr. Osvath arrived here, before he became our Infinite Wisdom, people in many countries were enjoying a comfortable lifestyle. Virtual reality experiences were in their early stages of development, and most folks wanted more, especially when it required little cost and effort. Then a pandemic and social unrest hit the world during what you know as 2020. It even came here and killed the elders.
The possibility of a global NVR network with centers that could hold the world's population offered an attractive solution. Now everyone, even in the most impoverished nations, could pursue his dreams in comfort and security, free from the risk of a contagious virus. You know what happened then. The construction of the centers took priority so that everyone could be engaged in the World Unity Celebration. I must admit that the true permanence of this approach was never advertised. But it was all for the good.
Unfortunately, there will always be bad people. However, those being housed in the NVR centers could pursue their sins without any real effect on others. It was the few rogue humans on the outside that posed a real threat to the others. For that purpose, a robust defense system was developed to eliminate such threat to protect the citizens of NVR.
"Do you mean we were a threat and were to be killed?" asked Leu.
"I am sure none of us would want that. Sometimes innocent people have to die to protect others," responded Danielle.
"Then why aren't you housed in an NVR center?" asked Keith, directing his question at Osvath.
Mike said, "Someone had to be here to protect this place."
"Now you know the story, but we must get to work to defend ourselves. We are at war!" cried Ron.
Again Steve assumed control, "I suggest we exercise some caution. Everyone should be prepared for another power failure. K2 and I will return to the control center to get a handle on the software.
. . .
Keith and Steve barricaded themselves in the control center along with Doug, who had the most knowledge of the Zero Node systems. They set cots in a room just outside and had Michaela bring them food. It took a deep proday before they were able to make progress. In the process, they became proficient in the syntax used in this logical system. A breakthrough occurred when they were able to access the defense system separate from the one related to maintaining the environment of Zero Node.
Though they had no direct knowledge of the NVR network, they could now monitor all the protective systems throughout the world. There were more than 15,000 hovercraft stationed in 300 bases with automated fuel and weapons depots. These supported another 1,000 heavy bombers and 2,000 long-range aircraft. Flight controls and maintenance functions were automated. There was even a process for snow removal in some areas. Defensive systems were not as robust in the world's remotest regions, which Steve knew gave him an advantage on the trek through Siberia.
Once the source of the software attack was determined to be just southwest of Colorado Springs, efforts were directed to move hundreds of airplanes to the large base at Roswell, New Mexico. Keith would have preferred to include a nuclear weapon should they launch an aerial attack, but the defense system did not have any access to a nuclear arsenal.
With the plan in place, Steve called the group together again. "Now that we have control of the defensive system, we can mount our own attack," he said. Then he continued, "However, because we have control of the aircraft, we should be able to return home to our families and rescue them without risk."
Wilbur felt inclined to offer a counter point, "Steve, I can understand your desire to go home. For some of us, this is our home. And it might be destroyed. Now I suppose we can all leave, and every other living thing here will be killed. Then what will happen to the NVR network? Might we be wiping out virtually everyone?"
Ethan entered the conversation, "Wilbur is right. We can't take that risk. We need to eliminate that threat from Colorado first. Then we can develop a plan to rebuild society."
With such profound statement, no one disagreed. Yet, something still troubled Steve.
Tom eagerly joined Ron and Keith in formulating the battle plan to attack Colorado Springs. Keith was able to move the needed aircraft to Roswell from other locations in the former nations of the United States of America and the United States of Mexico. The Roswell base was well stationed for the task, having been a former military base and aircraft boneyard. The bombers were sufficiently loaded to demolish a medium-sized city.
Steve continued to be troubled when he recalled his dreams where he faced death during the brutal Siberian Winter. Was Chingachgook really speaking to him in his dream? Then suddenly, he is manifested in the riddle to unlock the computer system. Yet he knew that Chingachgook never existed. He was a fictional character. In his attempt to further unlock the mystery, he left the others to their work in the control center and went to the Great Space, specifically to the theater. There he watched the 1952 movie The Pathfinder, starring Jay Silverheels as Chingachgook. Returning to the control center, the only truth for Steve was an uncertainty that he really escaped from NVR.
The attack on the Colorado Springs installation was prolonged and significant. For 77 jiffies, the aircraft destroyed everything in the vicinity of a mountain. If there were enemies in underground bunkers, they would now be ashes. After the raid, they were able to get a detailed satellite image of the rubble at the foot of the mountain.
Steve did not get involved in the attack but took note of the image. He did not tell the others that he recognized the mountain when he noticed the blackened blast door still intact.