Smartbomb by Matthew S Williams - HTML preview

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Chapter 2

“Problems, what problems?”

“I may be jumping the gun here sir,” the lithe man in dress uniform said over the globocom screen, “but we have noted some minor anomalies in Central‟s behaviour.”

“What kind of anomalies?”

“Well, our diagnostics indicated nothing, but we have noticed some suspicious things going on with Central. Specifically in terms of its research and communications activities.”

Dr. Nerud nodded as he took another spoonful from his tray and shovelled it into his mouth. Noiselessly chewing on the pureed protein mush, he responded to the Captains report out of one side of his mouth.

“What so strange about its activities?”

“Well sir, Central has been accessing its archival information quite frequently, but we noted that the archival information it was accesses had nothing to do with the current situation in South-East Asia. Also, it has been communicating with its field units with increasing frequency these past few months. We didn‟t think much of it at first, but it grew more and more frequent as the situation in Asia worsened.”

“And this should be considered abnormal?” Nerud asked. “It‟s to be expected that Central would be taking on greater comm activity with its field units and advance command bases whenever a crisis appears to be looming. And the archival stuff, that‟s perfectly normal too. It‟s part of Central‟s directives to know as much as possible about a situation before it is called upon to make strategic decisions is it not?”

“Yes sir, but…”

“And as I understand it, a crisis is looming, yes?”

The Captain looked hesitant, irritated even by his last comment.

“Sir, I…” he fumbled.

“Oh come now!” Nerud interrupted. “I have full security clearance Captain, you can tell me what‟s going on!”

“Sir, perhaps if the Admiral spoke to you himself about this.”

“He asked you to make the call, didn‟t he? I assumed that he was preoccupied.”

The Captain took a deep breath. “Yes, sir. He has been in Bonn for several days now briefing the Joint Chiefs. He asked me to make the call in his stead.”

“Then you should feel free to talk to me, son. There are very few secrets between your boss and me. So tell me, what‟s the news from Asia?”

The Captain took another deep breath. Clearly the latest news was bad.

“The situation has been getting worse every day, sir. The Eastern Bloc has continued to announce its support for the rebels in Java. Today they ordered another three ships to the region to monitor our blockade of the island. Admiral Westheimer has ordered another carrier to be moved into the region, but the worst news is still coming from the island itself.”

“I take it the government has been having a hard time dealing with the insurgents?”

“Yes, sir. It looks like they are beginning to fear that they won‟t be able to end this crisis as soon as they predicted.”

“If they can end it at all,” Nerud mumbled.

“I beg your pardon sir?” the Captain asked.

“Nothing.” Nerud said. Taking one last spoonful from his tray and tossing it in the receptacle next to him, he directed his attention back to the screen. “As I said before, this should all be considered perfectly normal considering the weight of this problem. And you said that your diagnostics revealed nothing out of the ordinary?”

“Well, yes sir. But that is where things got suspicious.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well you see sir, we didn‟t really run the diagnostics. As you know, Central has it‟s own systems for performing self-checks, and when we asked it if we might try doing a manual one, it refused.”

“Refused?” Nerud demanded.

“Well, not in so many words sir. But it insisted it was fine and that we didn‟t need to start looking through its circuits. We persisted, but it told us that if we had any concerns, we should contact the head of the programming department.”

“Me,” Nerud said obviously.

“Yes sir. That was the other reason that the Admiral asked me to contact you. He said that this last detail was certainly out of the ordinary.”

Nerud‟s face was scrunched up into a funny little parody of itself. Anyone who was not familiar with his position or its importance might have found it funny. The Captain was certainly not one of them. For the next few seconds, he said nothing and merely pondered.

Tired of waiting for a response, the Captain continued.

“Central eventually submitted to a full diagnostic performed by our techs, but they said they couldn‟t find anything. Once they were done, it reiterated its position.”

“That it was fine and you had no right to go looking into it?”

“Yes sir,” the Captain replied. “I can tell you sir that it almost sounded like it was gloating when it did so too.”

Nerud‟s face scrunched tighter. This time he looked more angry than confounded.

“That is an unfounded assumption, Captain,” he said. “As is much of what you‟ve told me today. If Central said it was having no problems, than chances are it was having no problems. But as you and your techs have gone ahead and proven that for yourself, I don‟t see that I have much more to tell you. Anomalous or not, there simply is no reason to suspect it is having any problems.”

“Sir, respectfully,” the Captain began to say carefully, “If we are nearing a possible confrontation with the Eastern Bloc powers, we can‟t risk any problems with our AI‟s. If Central has a bug, then all the Smartbombs do too. They take all of their orders from it, after all. What if there really is a glitch in the system?”

“Son!” Nerud finally exploded. “Has Central ever malfunctioned? I ask you, has it? No!

Not the slightest error in over twenty years of service! The bloody thing was specifically designed to be error proof, and I‟ll be damned if some low-ranking army brats start telling me otherwise!”

The Captain went quiet, aware that he had overstepped his authority, and with the very man who was responsible for the design of Central and all its programs. Clearly he had taken personal offence at the suggestion that anything could be wrong with his baby.

“I apologize sir. I only meant…”

“Of course,” Nerud said, waving his hand. “It is I who should apologize.”

The Captain waited from moment while Nerud tried to regain his composure. Taking a few breaths and smoothing out the ruffles in his lad coat again, Nerud offered up a compromise.

“If it will settle tempers over there at HQ, I could make some inquiries, even speak to Central myself from our outlet here. Will that put your minds at ease?”

“Yes, sir,” the Captain said positively, “that‟s all the Admiral really wanted: your assurance that you would dedicate your expertise to this and determine that there was nothing out of the ordinary.”

Nerud nodded and raised his hand again to interrupt.

“If I were you, I would be more worried about what the Easterners are planning next.

Central and her Smartbombs will do all that they are called on to do, should the need arise. Let‟s just pray it doesn‟t.”

The Captain nodded and the signal terminated. Standing there alone, Nerud began to think about everything he had been told. In his mind, the pieces began to drop, looking for some pattern to fall into.

Impending crisis in one corner of the world.

Archival data unrelated to the immediate situation.

Communications with all its units on a global scale.

The only answer, aside from the preposterous assumption that the Captain was suggesting, was a very unpleasant one. If Central‟s preparations went beyond the scope of the problem in Southeast Asia, then it could only be because she was anticipating a problem much wider in scope. The answer was so obvious it made him want to smack that kid in the blue uniform who had just troubled him.

A real global crisis! he concluded. We haven’t had one of those in…

He couldn‟t even remember. Such things simply did not happen, not anymore. Not since the inception of the North Western Treaty Organization and the invention of the Smartbomb had conflict on such a scale ever taken place. But if Central truly believed that the Asian situation would lead to one, then it had to be taken seriously. All alone, Nerud desperately pondered what this would mean. If the Western and Eastern governments turned their smart munitions on each other, both sides would surely see their entire infrastructure destroyed. They would lose all ability to wage the sophisticated electronic warfare that had become their mainstay for so long.

Once that was done, both sides would be defenceless if any third party or rogue state decided to strike at them, which they most certainly would. After years of being in an inferior position militarily and strategically, they would welcome any opportunity to hit the major powers while they were weak. And if that happened, their governments would have to take up arms to defend their borders, the old fashioned way.

A return to conventional warfare! he concluded. Oh, the horror!