Like any outsider in a tribal society, Paolo Leite felt left out of the colony social circle. The members of the third Greater Brazilian expedition to Proteus, the inner moon of Neptune, had been chosen partly to make up a typical tribal band, thirty individuals supposedly being a good size for such a group. The three-year journey in the six hundred metre fusion driven Papo-Furado had been time to become acquainted. When the inflatable kevlar domes and magnetic power generators were set up on the small moon, the new inhabitants of this tiny world began to establish relationships among themselves in earnest.
However the formation of partner pairs went slightly differently to the expectations of the social engineers, and with two female/female pairs and one all male pair after six months, Paolo was left with the choice of casual relationships with people he knew too well. In the limited living space available inside the colony domes, and the constant proximity of other people, love affairs became news for the entire tiny moon. He did not think he was about to hitch up with the other single male either, who was about as unhappy about the prospect as he was.
A brief affair with the Optical Astronomer Esmeralda Vieira was complicated when she also took up with the agronomist, an eccentric guy who called himself Atahualpa. Usually dressed in indigenous Amerindian clothes and telling interminable traditional stories, Atahualpa also sang strange songs he made up on the spot.
"You're no more indian than I am," said Esme
"In my soul, not my genes
my soul is in my jeans,"sang Ata.
"Why. have you got any indian in you at all, Esme?" asked Paolo.
"Would you like some?" said Ata, quick as a flash.
They all fell about, a strange sight on a low gravity moon.
Paolo found to his surprise that he got on very well with this lunatic, and for a brief while they formed a sexual triad with Esme. This was new territory to Paolo, and it certainly seemed to suit Esmeralda very well.
" If you two guys are cool, we can keep it together for a while," she said the first night.
But after a while Paolo and Atahualpa grated on each other's nerves, as was to be expected. Natural modes of behaviour, including perhaps jealousy, began to surface despite the colony's regime of pharmacological hedonism.
The two men mostly argued about neural augmentation, banned in the Greater Brazil space programme.
Late one off-watch, they fell out.
"You know who the worst freaks are, Paolo, it's those Augmentation Activists, the ones that tried to take over Internal security while we were training. They say they think with their neural implants and are half computer."
"I know all about them, Ata, they are pretty far out there, but they say it is because they don't want us to be exterminated by the AIs, or thrown on the scrap heap." The Artificial Intelligences, or AIs, had growing influence and power in the nations and corporations on and off Earth.
"Yeah, the fucking AI's are even worse, but we will all end up as silverhead freaks if the Augies have their way." Ata was referring to the macro-implants that covered the head of an individual with electronic Intelligence Augmentation. He started singing.
"Shiny Headed People-
Shiny Headed People -They are gonna get U- "
"Ah, yeah, ok, but as long as they don't take your mind away, surely a bit of, I don't know, improvement would be useful-" Paolo said, staring at his happy juice.
"And the Tweak-freaks are the worst- they are making themselves into frankensteins- and worse." Atahualpa said, throwing a ball of paper towards the wastepaper basket, but the ball ran out of momentum and drifted slowly down in the Proteus microgravity.
It missed the basket.
"Well, I tend to agree with you there, the genemodders in China and the Orbitals might be able to tweak people to survive on Mars, or vacuum, or even underwater, but it's a lot more difficult to make people's brain's more efficient just using DNA- that's just crap." Paolo took a swig of the medicated orange juice, feeling the pharmacological effects almost immediately. " The Augies- I dunno, perhaps not so bad as they're painted-"
"The Augies are gonna put us all in camps, and that's if we are lucky," Atahualpa, sarcastic and untypically hostile. "Putting processors and stuff in your head? Hah! When we have a war between people and machines, I want to know if I'm all on the same side."
"But it is so logical- we are missing so much- everyone is, is jacked on the net anyway," Paolo slurred, well pharmed, not making a cogent argument by any means.
"I'm in control when I'm surfin', don't want any implant eatin' my brain, thank you-"
"The Augies and the su-Chinese are really -ah-ah- expanding their minds- we are gonna get left behind- can't you see..." Paolo said, --damn pharm fogginess.
"Yeah, yeah, tell me more, you are so right," scoffing now.
Paolo hit Atahualpa in the eye, although his awkwardness in the low gravity prevented any real damage, and without a word the agronomist left the common room and retreated into Esme's quarters. In this way Paolo became isolated from his former triad and indeed most social contact.
Maintaining the mental and physical health of the sub-Turing Sentient Computer System and the limited capability Autofab took up quite a bit of his time as senior information technician. He only started to brood when the secondary mission was sent to Triton, leaving a small number of personnel behind, all of whom seemed unsympathetic or downright hostile. Esme was one of them. "Don't worry about it, Paolo, Ata's forgotten it already." was the only time she mentioned it.
"And what about you?" he asked.
"You want to be a bit less of an idiot, sometimes."
"That is something I'm, er, working on."
Jose and Carla, the other information techies, were both enthusiastic about artificial intelligence and it's potential.
" This no-brain SCS we've got is useless; if they'd let me I'd get the Autofab to make upgrades so it could at least reach Turing grade, but no, it's supposed to be too dangerous." Jose said. A computer that could pass as human, passing the so-called Turing Test, was far more flexible than the sub-Turing they had on Proteus.
Carla agreed." Even better would be a hyperturing, they can do things you wouldn't believe. Saw one in Roddenbury Orbital, it was giving three hundred students individual tuition at once, running the life support and a chat show all at the same time."
"I talked to the hyperturing called Mycroft once when I was on the Moon," said Paolo, shuddering." Nothing ever scared me so much, the thing seemed to know everything I was going to say to him. I have to agree with the Space Programme here, we would end up like coati in a cage."
"You are one of those people who want the Augies to take over, Paolo, aren't you." Carla looked at him accusingly.
"Take a look at this item on the IPN, and then tell me the Augies are trying to help us poor humans." Jose sent them both, via his Gibson net implants, a link to the InterPlanetary Net news. Carla and Paolo called up the link and stared into nothingness as the item unfolded, absorbed in the dataflow.
"Today the Cybernetic Terrorist Group the Augmentation Activists admitted that they had been behind the loss of contact with the Chad Space Authority outpost on the Near Earth Asteroid Khufu. The Group stated that the Activists had re-established contact with the outpost and the development team based there, and all surviving members of that team had voluntarily accepted the so-called macro-augmentation process.
The Augmentation Activists stated that casualties were relatively few, but did not give details. The Heavenly Palace orbitals and Cruithne asteroid have already recognised the new regime."
"Bastards-" was all Carla would say.
" All those superbrights who are working with the AI's, even trying to design human- friendly ones, you think they'd put a stop to all this killing and subversion." Jose said
"I don't think they'll find it easy, somehow." Paolo had also had some contact with the augmenters, and this he had kept secret from the Mission selection board.
The next time he saw Esme, she was observing the Cantaloupe Terrain on Triton, watching the progress of the secondary mission. Her net implants allowed text, sounds and images from the telescopes to be relayed directly to her cortex. Paolo caught her attention with difficulty.
"You don't suppose I could have a look, please?" he said.
Using direct net contact for the first time in weeks, she sent him the address. He was suddenly staring at the surface of Triton, pink and blue grey.
" There they are- that tiny black dot at the edge of the frost line. The brown hook shapes are the nitrogen geysers, and the curves and hollows in the cantaloupe are caused by collapses in the subsurface layers."
" Don't you think sometimes how useful it would be to use the full potential of these net implants, Esme? You could plan the mission, teleoperate all the ice diggers, commune with the people over there mentally."
"That's treason talk, Mister Leite," said with an inscrutable smile. " Besides, have you never seen those Augie casualties on the newsnet? If the implant upgrade goes wrong, they end up as subhumans. You know, what they call the Algernons?"
"That stupid name again-" Paolo used his net implant to look up the reference in the local database. " Seems to come from an old science fiction story."
"You see, you don't need all that Augie shit, you can look up the net just like that."
" They say macro-implants allow you to become an expert in any field, and think ten times as fast."
"Which is pathetic compared to a hyperturing. Still, it would make orbital calculations easier."
A few people were attracted by any novelty, and Esme seemed to be one of these. The romantic but deluded Ata up there on the pink moon however was known to be to be a great believer in the potential of unaided humanity, and so was the gruff Captain Hopkinson.
Paolo stared at the cantaloupe terrain in the image. "It looks like a brain, all pink and grey, it's folds and curves look like the cortex, can't you see it?"
"Nothing like it- perhaps a bit like the inside of a cranium, or something," said Esme, losing interest.
" No, that's what it makes me think of, and how we are going to develop the cantaloupe ice and improve on nature. Just like the Augies and the Cis-Lunar colonists are trying to improve the human mind."
"My God, you are getting obsessive about that. Just drop it, Paolo."
He unhooked from the telescope stream and stormed out.
Paolo could not sleep for nearly a week, although he did no know why.
Eventually he could no longer resist sending his prearranged code to his contact, a woman four light hours away in Wewak, Papua New Guinea, Earth.
He wrote- Do you still remember how we used to like the cafezhino in the bar at Carioca's? Which signified, simply- I am ready.
Captain Octavio Hopkinson was one of the few crew remaining on Proteus, as most of the rest were with the Triton party. He called Paolo over the next day, after breakfast.
"Here we are, Leite, there is mail now available for you from Earth. Big file, too- Look, I'm sorry, lad, but you know I have to be aware of the contents of all communications received here, so I've had a quick look, I'm afraid. All I can say is, I'm glad I didn't delegate this to my wife- she doesn't approve of this sort of thing."
"Wha- I- sorry, Captain, what are you-?"
"The Girl, lad. The Girl! the one in New Guinea. She's sent you some- er- interesting home movies. Don't worry, I'll not be prying any further, Paolo."
"That's-That's ok, Captain." So that was how they did it. No-one would be probing too deep into such intimate messages- Paolo wondered how many isolated habitats had fallen to such a simple strategy.
Hundreds of years before, steganography- the technique of hiding messages within other messages - had been developed by mediaeval monks, but by the Year of our Lord 2157 the messages that could be hidden within moving video files were effectively undetectable without the right algorithm.
Paolo had the right algorithm, and knew how to use it.
Soon Paolo had decoded recipes tailored to fit the Brazilian Space Programme's Autofab limitations, instructing it to make rod-logic augmentations and self-implanting additions to his net implants. The Autofab was a sealed shell, able to make advanced electronic components and larger metal objects such as frames and tools, if given raw materials in the proper forms. It was still a long way from being a mythical self- replicating device that would chase away poverty, but such things were theoretically possible; after all the colonists and their food plants were biological examples.
Every night while he slept the upgraded and enlarged implants were whispering instructions into his subconscious, changing the complexity of his neural structure and analysing the results. Large parts of the analysis were referred to Paolo's own password protected segment of the subturing computer system, which was now eating up a larger and larger proportion of the colony's available processing resources. Paolo began to use the base computer as an optional extra layer of his mind, overlaying his primitive hindbrain, midbrain, cortex and the substantial self contained implant layer he could now confidently call part of himself.
"Hell, look at that, it's gone down!" Jose said, standing by the gas converter monitors.
The other two information tech specialists were kept busy by investigating a mysterious problem in the gas separator control systems- no matter what they tried, the system would show a new error within minutes or hours. Paolo suggested ways of dealing with the system which seemed to work, then the whole thing would go belly-up again.
"Did you try that patch-up I gave you?"
"Well, yeah, it worked great Paolo, for a while, but I still don't understand what made it work-- any hey, it's fucked again,"
*The Gas Converter subsystem will not respond to instructions for five hours. If required this period of time can be altered *
A strange, gentle voice was constantly sounding in Paolo's mind, together with schematics, telling him how far the process of subversion had proceeded in all the colony's computers. The major problem had been the Brazilian Government's shields and firewalls against this exact kind of attack, which were the best available. What Paolo did not have the authority to deactivate was eventually disarmed by the sentient algorithms from Earth. When the internal operating system had entirely rewritten itself, it encrypted all it's processes, and started to receive information direct from the radical Augmenters themselves.
After a while Paolo stopped getting details of the alterations, but the voice in his head seemed much more coherent. He decided to test the limits of the upgraded system: it would obey his commands where possible, however there was no inhibition against killing humans, so the system did not have an artificial conscience. It did not seem to have a personality either, which puzzled him. The easiest way was to ask it.
" Tell me why have you been designed without full consciousness, please?" he asked, via the interface, silently.
*The designers wish to survive in a world that will soon be filled with artificial consciousness. To survive in such a world will require improvements to human abilities. This agent has been designed to facilitate such improvement *
The "agent" never referred to itself as a person, or showed any self interest.
Paolo used his rostered time on the moon's airless surface to bury a lifetent (which he had cooked up with the autofab) in a crater less than a hundred kilometres from the colony. In the tent was the entire backup computer core, now also infected with the "agent", and various tools and even weapons. These preparations might never be needed but he wanted to be prepared for anything he could imagine. And he could imagine a lot now.
One night he approached Esme while the clownish agronomist Atahualpa was still on Triton.
"I have crossed what you might call a Rubicon, Esme. Do not be alarmed, but I have something important that I wish to tell you."
Paolo was aware that his speech pattern sounded different and more confident. In fact it was difficult not to get impatient waiting for other people to focus their attention.
"You sound, well, kinda serious, Paulo," Esme said.
"Never more so. We have discussed macro-implants many times in the past, Esme. Well, in a manner of speaking, I have found a way of ordering them on-line. Look at this." He showed her the new silvery bulges on his head (which he had hidden with a baseball cap).
"These augmentations will allow ordinary people like us to join together and resist the rise of the non human artificial minds. I need you to be the first to join me as a superior. Together we can convince the crew to join us, with luck."
She looked at him with a mixture of shock and amusement.
"You really are a crazy, lying bastard," she said finally.
Somewhat to his surprise, she seemed interested and conspiratorial; she took him to her quarters and her bed.
He was glad that he still could feel surprise in his augmented state, and soon found that many other, more intimate elements of his life experience were also amplified.
Once again, it seemed to suit Esme very well.
What Paolo perceived as the eternal perfidy of woman was unchanged, however, and when he awoke he found himself staring into the eyes of Captain Hopkinson, holding a tazer stungun against Paolo's head.
"So, you Augie bastard, you have been perverting our autofab -Eh?" Hopkinson said.
The thickset, crew-cut expedition commander was pressing the electrodes of the tazer into Paolo's temples, as if he was going to burn the implants out (the colony was not issued firearms for safety reasons concerned with depressurisation). Just a squeeze of the trigger would paralyse Paolo and probably fry his implants.
"I am your prisoner, Hopkinson," he said, disregarding the senior officer's rank. Paolo knew he could probably disarm the Captain if he activated his new muscle control override programmes, but instead he remained calm. Esme watched, arms folded, in the background, out of reach.
"Careful, Captain, he is dangerous. It seems like the computer takes him over sometimes or something. I don't think he realises it, but it is like he is possessed."
The cantaloupe terrain party was approaching from Triton in the shuttle craft, which was capable of respectable speeds but had a range limited to Neptune's family of moons. When it landed, a crisis meeting was called to discuss the emergency.
"Jose, make sure Leite cannot escape. If he breathes funny, I want to know about it. "said the Captain.
The young techie now had realised how he had been deceived by the faked equipment failures, and was mad as all hell.
"Get out of this, metal head," he said.
He put polymer restraint cuffs- intended for use in mutinies- on Paolo, who was no stronger than a normal baseline human, after all, then threaded an alarm wire through the cuffs as insurance, which he hooked up to the main alarm circuit. Jose rushed back to the meeting like a man with an axe to grind.
It took less than a second for the agent in the colony's computer to disable the internal alarm system, but it took half an hour with a surgical hacksaw for Paolo to free himself, and fifteen minutes to make his way to the storage bay airlock via the suspended ceiling. He made no more noise than a mouse, due to his lack of weight.
Now that the Triton mission had landed, Esme nervously faced an emergency council meeting of the Papo-Furado colony, and tried to explain what Paolo had done to himself.
"Paolo was getting very low, and acting really weird. When he showed me his macro implants-I knew he had gone over the edge- and look, I'm sorry, Captain- but I was going to help him keep it quiet until Doctor Pereira came back. But he really began to freak me out- "
Ata was clutching his head and raving. "My God, Esme, he could have killed us all. He changed all right, I wish I'd realised how much he changed- he could have killed you and thought nothing of it. That mind hacking turns you into some kind of fucking robot or something."
"We must not underestimate the danger of having an augmented infiltrator here, even if he is securely held. God knows what he is capable of. Until he is neutralised, we had better keep the shuttle out of reach." said the Captain. "Make sure it gets up into orbit right away, please."
Carla contacted the pilot silently via the local net, and after a tense period, the floor shook as the shuttle returned to orbit. Esme watched it go through a small external camera she was accessing via the local net; several other colonists were jacked onto the same channel. Atahualpa however glared at Esme and nothing else.
"Captain! Those implants he's got- they can be removed, can't they?" Jose said.
"Yes, indeed, I hope so; what do you say, Miguel?" Hopkinson said to Pereira, the colony medic.
"I'll see what I can do, but there is a risk of the so-called Algernon syndrome, so I'll have to do some reading up. I believe the implants access the cortex via the cranial nerves, the same as the Gibson implants, so I should be able to do something." said Pereira, a small man in his fifties.
Esme said "Paolo will probably want some kind of profound anaesthetic- whatever is inside his skull seems to be awake while he is asleep so might resist you."
"You were lucky to be able to come to inform me, if that is so, Esme. Why did the augmented systems not wake him up, if they were vigilant?"
"He had his eyes open, even when he was asleep, but he didn't move a muscle when I left- it weirded me out - it was like he was waiting for orders." Esme began weeping gently.
"Captain! One of the skimmers has just left the compound!" Carla, who was still jacked into the external monitors, called out.
"Leite! Get back there, Jose, now!"
Jose returned to the sickbay to find his prisoner gone.
" Christ- I'm sorry, Captain - he was cuffed and alarmed - how the fuck - ?"
"We'll sort this out later, Achilleos. Damn good thing we got the shuttle off the surface, or he would have had tried to steal it. Who is the pilot?" Hopkinson demanded.
"Maria Guerreiro - I've got her on the comm now." Carla called up a net image of the shuttle pilot. Most of the people in the room linked into the same image.
" Do you copy, Maria - this is an emergency. Are you able to make a visual scan of the surface ice around the colony? Paolo Leite has gone Awol, and we think he may be dangerous."
"Copy that, Captain, carrying out visual scan now - I think I can see - hello? Hello? Do you copy - losing audio signal - "
There was a flurry of activity as the colonists tried to re-establish audio contact with the shuttle. " We still copy you, Maria- try--"
"Captain-still do not copy you- if you can hear me, I confirm receipt of text instruction-"
"What text instruction? - Did anybody send a text instruction? --" Hopkinson turned to look at the other colonists, almost spinning out of control in the microgravity.
"-switching to remote pilot now --" said Maria.
"No-one here has sent anything -" Carla said, looking at the Captain with widening eyes.
"Maria, do you copy -- "
The tiny image showed Maria thrown violently against the rear bulkhead, together with the other crewmember, Antonio, and a confused roar seemed to indicate several gees of thrust. Luisa, Maria's partner, shrieked and rushed from the room.
"Madre - why weren't they strapped in? "
"They were in free fall, Captain - didn't expect to - " Carla said, stunned.
"If the main motor fired at maximum - that would be enough to kill both of them."
Less than three minutes later, the airlock cycled, and Luisa's distinctive spacesuited figure could be seen on the external monitors. In her haste she had grabbed a green emergency axe and seemed ready to use it. She fired up the second skimmer, and set off along the fresh trail left by the one Paolo was in. As she approached the irregular horizon, the shuttle came into view, and she disappeared in the cloud of ice particles kicked up as it landed squarely on top of her.
The Captain stopped the pursuit party from leaving just before they entered the airlock.
"How can he be doing this, in the name of God?" he said.
Esme said, "Paolo is linked up to the computers by his macros -either he is controlling them or they are controlling him."
"Is that why you slept with him, to check his implants out, you bitch?" Atahualpa, fully suited now, said through his open visor.
He sent, via the net U've always wantd 2 fk a silverhed
Not now talk 2u later Ata she sent back.
"Listen, it's really important. Knock the computer off and he'll lose control of the shuttle."
The net image showed the shuttle taking off again, then turned dark grey.
All the net connections turned dark grey inside the colonist's heads.
"I can't knock off the computer- I've lost all control over the SCS." Jose said.
"Just- Just switch all power off to the mainframe. Now!" Hopkinson yelled.
When the Sentient Computer System was switched off the lights and airplant shut down too, and nothing they could do would restart them. The link to Earth was down too, of course. They were cut off, isolated from the nearest other humans (a small outpost orbiting Uranus) by the distance light would travel in ninety minutes. Outside they could see the shuttle orbiting lifelessly out of reach of the colonists and the fugitive.
Jose called from the computer room through the darkness and flickering torchlight.
"The secondary computer core is not there, just a shell. Vanished."
"Well done, Jose, you lose your prisoner, then you lose the computer," growled Ata.
"Well, he only has an hour's oxygen- he should be running out just about now. If he can't get to the shuttle or the lifetent at the north pole, he will be dead soon." said Hopkinson.
Esme said, " You don't realise how much he's changed. He seems to plan for everything- he's still out there somehow."
Having planned for a large range of possible contingencies, the augmented Paolo had been well prepared; he had used the hour's emergency oxygen to reach the relocated lifetent nearby and dug into the icy moon's loose surface. It would have been somewhat easier to take the shuttle as soon as it returned from Triton, but it had taken off again before he could manage to escape. The deaths were unfortunate, but this game of cat and mouse, and having the power of life and death, seemed to amuse the new Paolo. In the tent the "agent" inside the secondary computer core flickered into life.
A day later the shuttle was gone from the sky, and Esme and the others knew the fugitive was still around. The Captain dared not use the suit oxygen to search for him as the store of breathing air was unusually low.
"The gas plant has been out for weeks. It is as if he has been planning to smother us
into submission all along," he said.
After a week with no sentient control systems and deteriorating conditions, the colony suffered a worse blow.
"The water tank won't refill because the pumps are not working. We can obtain extra water by melting some of the broken ice masses near the landing field. Twenty minutes of oxygen, and we will have enough water for several more days. Ata, will you help me?" said the Captain. Atahualpa slowly picked himself up from the strange, tortured position he had been in and started to attach his helmet. He had never taken his suit off or spoken to Esme again. Of course text messages were impossible.
Powered by emergency batteries, the small lights on the airlock door controls illuminated the otherwise dark habitat, and the two men could be heard on the independent airlock comm as they went outside. Esme tried to see them through the tiny pressure window, but without luck. After a few minutes she felt an impact and explosion, and a rapidly expanding cloud could be seen at the edge of the landing field
"Meteor!" shouted Pereira. He struggled into a suit, and so did Esme, but she knew this was no natural accident.
They found the two men in a white crater ten metres across, and buried them there.
"No need to bring them inside. This is the best place for them for now," said the medic.
Esme was alone now, everything gone. She comforted the Captains wife, but found little comfort herself. The mad idea of revenge she had before surfaced again, in her dreams and awake.
The remaining colonists lacked the forensic skills to detect the aluminium oxide propellant powering and guiding the meteor. Nevertheless, no one had any doubt that the Augie ghost was behind the deaths, and the life support systems were now almost non-existent.
"Switch the systems back on for pity's sake- we'll all die of cold and lack of oxygen,"said Pereira.
"If we do, the ghost will have us-" Jose said. " I've seen these augies, even spoken to some back in Cis-Luna... they are hardly human, and they want to link everybody's minds together to fight a holy war against the hyperturings. I'm not going to join them whatever happens."
"He must have the secondary core there, wherever he is, and he's got the shuttle now.
What can we lose?" Pereira coughed in the cold air.
"Switch it on and Paolo will know everything we do- the station is insulated enough to last until we run out of oxygen candles," Esme said. " He will come here himself when he is ready."
Six orbits of Neptune by Proteus later, and much colder, Carla asked Esme:
"Why-why did you screw that Augie, anyway for God's sake-was it the novelty or what?"
"Not really, Carla... I wanted to see if this stuff had done Paolo any good, but it just seems to have made him worse-- if you tried it on a sane person, this augmentation stuff would work completely different, I bet."
"No-one's going to mince up my brain, Esme."
She looked out of the tiny pressure windows, but all that could be seen was the sun, far away, and Neptune, and the ice.
Carla and Jose were whispering and moving equipment around, in the low gravity it was easy enough, but Jose was covered in cuts and bruises where the massive equipment demonstrated its inertia by crushing him in doorways. Too numb to feel pain, he hardly cried out, but Esme insisted on binding his crushed hands. The equipment lay unexplained, near the airlock door.
They all slept, then Esme peered out of the pressure window again until her head was spinning.
"He will come when he is ready, " she said to no-one.
Three hours after the last oxygen candle ran out, the ghost turned up at the outer airlock door. He was covered in silver fabric. Behind him on the horizon was the shuttle.
"Ding, Dong," said the ghost, over the comm. "I'm here."
The colonists opened the outer, then the inner airlock door, and Paolo came in, choking somewhat on the foul air inside. Suddenly a blinding flash reflected off his silver suit. Carla and Jose fired the battery powered spectrograph laser they had set up.
The silver suit reflected the laser long enough for Paolo to set off a smoke grenade, then from the smoke and darkness flashed a long thin knife held in an implant-guided hand. Carla and Jose fell, throats cut.
Paolo slowly straightened, and stood balanced in the low gravity.
Esme and Pereira rushed to the fallen techies, but they didn't last long.
"Get it over with, Paolo, whatever you have come here to do." Esme said finally.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, you can have your life support and the control systems back, with a price attached.
" All you people have to do is accept the Macro implants and join the real, expanded, wonderful world that I am now a part of. You will have a very good chance of surviving the procedure, if I do it right. If you decline, then I'm afraid you have no chance at all. Please don't think of me as a monster, once you are augmented I trust you will see me as a liberator."
Esme said, "Why have you done all this? With all your so-called augmentation why not win us over with debate and argument?"
"I had a contingency plan worked out which involved many detailed arguments. You were to be the first convert. I anticipated that not everyone would be convinced, and there would have been a number of casualties similar to those that have occurred. This plan was abandoned when you turned me over to the Captain. Everything that has happened came as a consequence of your decision then. Do not make such a mistake again."
After much agonising the twenty-two surviving colonists agreed to the augmentation procedure, starting with Esme. She was apprehensive about laying herself bare to the artificial agent, but it was strangely neutral and objective towards her. It seemed obvious that it simply magnified what was already there, and now she thought she could see the way it had magnified the confusion in Paolo's mind.
Twenty- five more Protean orbits and they had all been processed and linked to the reactivated sentient control system.
*It is recommended that you re-establish the link with Earth, but should contact the Augmentation Activist network directly and make no contact with the Brazilian space centre,* the machine said to them.
Su-Esme called the su-colonists together in the first virtual council cybermeeting, and expressed the thanks of the community to su-Paolo for lifting them out of the so-called "baseline human" intellectual mire.
Suddenly four or five pairs of hands seized Paolo. Su-Esme extracted the various weapons that Paolo had secreted around his person, and handed them to the other colonists standing nearby, who directed them against the accused.
She then said,
"The cybercouncil's second act is to order and carry out the execution of Paolo Leite, for murder and treason, and for acts likely to affect the future mental heath of the community. We cannot tolerate communion with one so ready to kill his fellows."
This sentence was carried out immediately, to avoid the possibility of evasion by the superbright prisoner. As his biological ego died, he realised that both his subconscious and his implanted hyperconscious had anticipated and agreed with the council's decision, and had been deluding him as his implants dumped their contents into the colony memory they left Paolo a simple message:
*goodbye, intermediate host *
Su-Esme, who had also been estimating contingencies, was mildly surprised at his lack of resistance. She turned away, sneered "Obviously, he was not as augmented as he thought he was."
Thus purged, Neptune was ready to receive visitors.