As usual morning’s routine had it, Doctor Phelps checked his implant. The first generation of martians didn’t have them. Most of the second generation didn’t have them, as many who had been sent to Mars in cryogenic chambers were thawed, and not implanted.

Third and fourth generations, and the currently born fifth generation, all had the implant, to limit their reproduction, as resources on Mars were limited.

There had been protests against this violation of human rights, but they quieted down, especially after the Valles famine. In the second generation, a group of seddlers had split, and established their own colony in Valles Marineries, and due to overpopulation, many starved. Their empty dwellings still stood as a grim reminder of how the system protected the colony.

Phelps knew it was sort of paranoid and hypochondriac to check his implant daily, but since he had access to the technology to do so, he was not harming or bothering anyone.

Except his own sanity perhaps.

Vital signs checked out, no threats to his health detected. No infections, viruses or other pathogens. Satisfied he reclined in his chair.

There was an additional entry in his files. A new technology.

“Enables the wearer to monitor bodily functions, and release treatments without additional equipment. Increases cognitive responses, direct communication with compatible technology.” He mumbled.

Intrigued he studied the specifications for the implant described on his screen. To his surprise there was no author to the spec sheet.

“Doctor Horowitz.” He instructed his phone. Moments later the called responded. “Levi, have you seen the new implant specifications in the network? Check them out asap, tell me what you think.” The call ended after these few words, afraid to have woken his friend and colleague he fought the urge to ask other colleagues.

One of them must’ve been the author. Regardless, he decided, I’m testing this thing.

 

“I was contacted by the DEHumans.” Kurt Braun stood again in the halls of the senate, but with only president John Kinsey and senator Adele Farrington present. “While distracting me with a proposal they downloaded something into the system, and I’m afraid it replicated through the network.”

Both the politicians had a neutral expression. There had been no reports of unusual behaviour of technology so far, even though the incident that Kurt was reporting on was a little more than a day ago. “Since then I took the workstation connected with the communication device off the network. But I fear the damage is already done.”

“What proposal?” Adele interjected. Since nothing had been reported she didn’t think the situation to be drastic. “Didn’t you hear what I just said? A potentially dangerous program is loose in our networks, it might be a virus, or something equally sinister!”

Merely raising an eyebrow Adele sighed. “I got you. But we have nothing of the sorts reported or detected. So, what was the proposition?”

Giving up, Karl gave a short version of the proposal by the DEHumans, of providing free transport to RV-p296, in exchange for fresh genes, before he left. He felt beteayed, but running a semi legal operation he couldn’t expect much else. Neither the president nor the senator were his friends. Aggravated and with considerable unease he proceeded to the tube. What if the virus, if it was one, had a basic understanding of things, an awareness, and it avoided detection?

In any case, he preferred to manually drive the cab that arrived. It might have seemed paranoid, but with all that he knew about the linkers, the cab could drive to a remote section of the tubes, cut off all communications and slowly suffocate him if he couldn’t get the doors open.

The ride took a little longer, as he had to manually negotiate the transfer clearances, but within quarter an hour he arrived in his lab.

“Any news?” He had tasked his assistants with decoding the downloaded program. “Not much. It contains some sort of specifications for a chip, but we haven’t had much success regarding the funtions of it.” With a knowing expression in his eyes Qurin looked up from his monitor. He too had read about the DEHumans and their methods, he too had a hunch at what the chip would be for.

“Keep on investigating.” Kurt mumbled, turning on his heels, leaving again. From the lab he turned sharply to the right. After a few meters he stopped in front of a door. It had a handle and a keyhole, in addition to the electronic locks.

Quickly he produced the key, opened the door and pulled it into the lock behind him. With a flick of a switch he turned on the light in the chamber. It was a closet really, but behind the backshelf a ladder was concealed, which he climbed down.

He had come that way before in the last twenty four hours. Manually disconnecting the communication device from the network, but also the computers controlling the dish, sweepers and lights. A few of the domputers down here had been left in their own small network, without any connection to the outside. Out of curiosity he decided to see whether something had happened.

To his surprise he found the lights in the computer room were on, something that should only happen if someone was inside.

“Maya?” Kurt looked at his wife with curiosity.

Startled she turned around, obviously she had not heard him approach. “Yes?”

“What brings you here?” On the monitor behind her he could clearly see the schematics for an implant, a cold fear grasped for his heart. “My studies,” she replied calmly, “you cut off the computer from the network, so I had to come to the computer.”

Reminded that his wife’s studies in medical science were also on the small cluster of computers in that room he relaxed. “Can you tell me what that is?” Pointing at the screen she turned back to it. “You should know, I told you about the linkers, and the transmission I received.” Looking at the data on the screen he concluded that the linker virus had sought out medical machines to deposit the information about the implant in. In one swift motion he took out his phone, dialing Quirin, to instruct him to simulate a medical computer for the program to reveal its data.

“You should call the president.” Maya said, looking at him from the corner of her eyes. “He’d be interested in getting this stuff and using it for his own agenda.” Grumbling, Kurt paced over to another screen. He had a backup of the communication computer running, for obvious reasons.

The real communication computer was currently even disconnected from the entanglement device, but the test machine had a simulated environment.

A cold shudder ran down his spine.

The DEHuman virus was attempting frantically to send a message out, presumably telling of the progress of the spread, the location of Mars based on constellations, time of jettisoning from the solar system, speed and direction.

It meant he would have to rebuild the software for communicating via the quantum entanglement device from a backup he had kept offline. The fine tuning would cost him some time.

“Did the president say so?”

Confused Kurt looked up, glanced over his shoulder, then shook his head. “Not in such words, no. But his demeanour told me all I needed to know.”

“Perhaps he should know that he can’t control this?” Again Kurt felt compelled to look at her but felt a sudden blow to the head.

 

“Pa!?” Leopold’s voice rang through a heavy, thick blanket of pain and numbness. Kurt felt a tug on his shoulder. He tried opening his eyes, saw the contours of his thirteen year old son’s face.

Blinking.

The image cleared up. With a moan he reached for the back of his head, all the while Leopold kept talking. Relief that he finally woke up, regret for coming down here, justifying it with him missing and Maya not replying to any calls. “I’m alright. I think.” Kurt sat up and leaned against one of the machines.

It struck him almost as hard as his head was struck before. The silence.

No cooling fans were running.

As if struck by lightning Kurt jolted up. “Help me, is anything here running?” Immediately the aftereffects of being struck down set in, causing him to sit back down.

Gratefully he thanked his son for the office chair he had wheeled to him. “Nope. Everything’s down, other than the lights.” Confused Kurt looked around, he was rummaging throgh his pockets, found his tablet and phone gone. “What time is it?”

“Seventeen hundred. Why?”

Cursing Kurt attempted to stand up again, he had been lying on the floor for seven hours. Perhaps his exhaustion had also a role to play in it, after sleeping for four to five hours a night ever since he had sent out the first message, this blow presented his body with an opportunity to get some much needed rest.

“Where’s your mom?”

“That’s why I came here, I found the spare key in the fake rock under the coffee plant. Your access code is the same everywhere, so I got in. Mom is not returning any call. Records show she left for,” he paused with a hint of fear in his eyes and voice, “the abandoned outpost in Valles Marineries.”

The icy grip of doom got a hold of his mind and heart again. The reviewed technical specifications for the linker chip. “Call Quirin Kerry, my assistant and,”

“He’s dead. At least according to the computer.” Leopold interrupted his father. “Alexandra Kensington too. I already tried raising them. The doors to your lab won’t open, if the decompression indicator at the airlock door is to be trusted, they probably died from exposure.” Tightening around his heart, the icy feeling of fear intensified, a knot formed in his stomach.

“Is anyone still alive and returning calls?” Kurt sighed, finally getting out of the chair, striding to the door. He couldn’t possibly take Leopold with him. But leaving him was out of the question as well. “Come.” He reached for his son’s hand. Something he hadn’t done in years, but unike normal circumstances, Leopold took the hand. Both seemed to remember time when Leopold was still a small child and gladly walked at his father’s hand.

Together they left the hidden part of Kurt’s lab, heading to the airlock doors that Leopold had mentioned.

Inside the airlock Kurt opened a locker that Leopold had neglected to notice before. It had been a long time since Kurt had donned a space suit, and Leopold had never been in one. Still they began the long an tedious procedure.

 

As was to be expected, the lab was quiet, other than their own respiration and blood flow, they heard nothing. Behind the door was Alexandra, she had tried opening it, in her last moments alive, but had died in doing so.

There was a tiny crack in the porthole window. Quirin’s lifless, mangled body lying beneath it, was proof that he had tried sealing it with his body so Alexandra could escape.

He turned to the computers they were supposedly working on, waved Leopold to join him. Screens were black, upon turning on, they showed what he had caught a glimpse on in the computer room below.

Had his wife, or whoever was responsible for trashing the lab, intended for him to die too? Originally the two rooms shared the same ventilation, but a pressure valve to keep the other room from decompression in case of an emergency had saved his life.

There was an active network connection, Leopold pointed out to him by tapping on an icon in the task bar. Startled Kurt rushed to his workstation.

The quantum entanglement device was not connected, he had taken the unique connector and put it in his pocket, but after Leopold found him, he neglected to check if it was still there.

By the mess between the computers and the device he could tell that someone had attempted to connect it.

But then left.

Something was stuck to the port of the connector, carefully Kurt leaned in, took a cable and scraped it off with it. Careful not to lose the material he just had found he unhooked the cable and got up.

Leopold stood at the airlock door as Kurt came back from the computer, clearly the young lad just wanted to leave and forget everything that he had seen in his father’s lab.

 

“What happened in there?” Pale and shaky Leopold peeled out of the suit. “A tragedy, and a betrayal.” Hastily Kurt stripped out of bis suit, he needed to see if he still had the connector on him.

Maya had been going through his pockets, taking phone and tablet, but had she also taken the connector?

A wave of relief washed over him as he felt the connector touch his fingertips. To be sure he pulled it out, eyed it carefully, put it back. Burried between two handkerchiefs.

“Where to now?”

“The president?” Kurt finished getting out of the suit, not without carefully picking up the cable. Without the helmet he could identify the material better.

Playdoh like material, Maya, or who ever, had taken a print of the port, so they could make a connector of their own, without proper wiring it would take them a few attempts, however. And due to the lack of an atmosphere in the lab they would need to come in, try, fail and leave again. In one fluent motion he picked up the helmet of his suit and bashed the screen in. Repeated that with Leopold’s helmet.

At the locker in the airlock he proceeded to prick the suits one by one with the shards, even those he and Leopold just had ditched on the floor.

He would not make it easy for the linkers.

 

Just as the last time he was riding a cab, Kurt took manual controls. After they left the upper most level and passed through the level where they lived, Kurt picked up regular traffic.

Whether it was paranoia or caution, he didn’t know, but he avoided all stops. As far as he was concerned, no one could be trusted. In the tube outside the senate he slowed the cab. Gazing out the window and the glass walls of the tube.

A few people walked in the hallway, they spoke. Would linkers speak? No. He decided. The woman who had spoken with him clearly was not accustomed to speaking. At the usual station at memory lake the cab stopped, let them out, Kurt returned automated controls to the cab. “Pa?”

“Go, look for her.” Kurt winked, sensing his son’s desire to check on his girlfriend, if one could call her that. It was amazing to Kurt how quickly the young lad seemed to have recovered from the gruesome images in the laboratory, now only wanting to see his girlfriend. Perhaps it was the rather pleasant change in location, or the fact they were not the only living, breathing and speaking humans around. He waited until Leopold was gone, to get out of his shoes and cramp up his trouser legs, swing over the railing around memory lake and wade out to the island in the middle.

Halfway hidden inside a bush was a thigh high ferris wheel. Old style gondolas, the once famous landmark of Vienna. The gondolas were the right size for the connector.

Quickly he returned before someone could see him.

Before one of the linkers could see him.

Slipping back into his shoes he ignored the soggy feeling, nothing visible gave away that he just had waded out there.

 

“The president is currently unavailable, Doctor. You need an appointment.” A stereotypical secretary greeted him. “Then how about Senator Farrington?”

Looking at him with disbelief the secretary slowly shook her head. “You must refer to Senator Farrington’s office for an appointment with the senator.”

Grinding his teeth Kurt sighed in annoyance. When they wanted to speak with him he had to have an open schedule, if he wanted to speak to them, he needed an appointment. “Tell the president, that I, Doctor Kurt Braun, wish to speak with him about the MISR program.” She took notes. “Now. Tell him now. Perhaps the president’s schedule magically opens up if he hears this.” He was aware that he sounded cazy, borderline dangerous, but he already had the reputation of being a borderline mad scientist, so he didn’t care.

Typing angrily at light speed she sent the message to the president, still shaking her head in disbelief.

“Let the man through, Laura!” The door behind her opened, framing the president like a painting. A few men and women in police uniforms and suits left the room as he welcomed Kurt.

“What’s the rush? One of these days you might scare Laura into calling security.” Jesting the president complimented Kurt in.

“I’ll make it short.” The door just had closed.

“My lab has been trashed, there’s no atmosphere in there, and until I replaced the porthole window, there won’t be any in the near future.” The playful smirk on Kinsey’s lips vanished in an instant, together with all color from his face. “Don’t worry, the device is safe, but soon they will try to hijack it, to contact the others.”

“They?” Previously Kurt had thought that all color had vanished from that face, but now the president grew even more pale. “Don’t tell me these DEHumans are on the lose?”

Nodding slowly Kurt told everything he knew. Maya had reviewed the specifications for the implant, probably had tried it out on herself, out of curiosity. It was reasonable to assume that other medical computers in the martian network had been gifted with the same innovative new technology, and that others had been implanted as well.

After all, one disconnected linker would not do anything harmful, except trying to get others to participate in the link.

Sitting on the visitor couch the president nodded repeatedly, while Kurt spoke. Never having been to the presidential office Kurt noticed that it was a little more luxurious than what normal people could enjoy. Bamboo floor, a hemp rug. A woodendesk, but it could also be bamboo, Kurt was no expert in furniture. Bamboo grew like weed, a good resource.

“Can they be brought under our control?” Pulled back into the present Kurt shook off the thoughts about the interior design of the office. “What do you mean, brought under control? They are a collective mind. There is no superior brain involved anywhere. We can not control them, they do that themselves. Once they can access the quantum entanglement device, they and their cousins over at the 296 system will link.”

“We control access to the device, don’t we?”

Squinting his eyes a little Kurt felt the same power his great grandfather must’ve felt. The president wanted the power the ‘borderline mad scientist Braun’ held. “I control access to the device. For now. But they will overcome the obstacles I’ve put in their way. Soon.” He pondered for a moment, he had read most of the reports received from MISR. From almost nothing the DEHumans had constructed a fleet of ships, colonies, technologies beyond the grasp of unaltered mankind.

Suddenly his expression grew darker. “What’s in Valles Marineries?”

Distraught the president looked up. “Abandoned dwellings, pressurised probably, with their agricultural equipment still running, they had their own geothermal vent drilled. But they lacked the food, most starved and those who didn’t, came crawling back. Why?”

Suspicions that, that story was not the whole truth about the Valles Marineries settlement grew in Kurt’s mind. “Listen, my wife is presumably a linker, my son said she was travelling there. So I need to know what else is there. The linkers wouldn’t go there, even one alone, if there wasn’t some benefit to their goals!”

Scared, the president looked up from the couch to Kurt.

 

“A fusion reactor, and a particle accelerator, I am told.” Although not equipped with a fusion reactor, that was nothing the normal colony couldn’t provide the linkers. There was a particle accelerator at the base of Olympus Mons, thats how the antimatter for the MISR was created.

Kurt paced up and down the presidential office. But there were safeguards in place to prevent the crearion of such, temporarily Kurt had taken those out of commission, but they were in place again. Were there such safeguards in the other one too?

“Probably not, they’ll use their geothermal energy to power the accelerator, and drain the fusion material to use that as a makeshift containment chamber.” He pondered aloud.

To what end where they creating antimatter? Were they planning to build a ship?

“We need to go in.” Kurt stopped. Turning to the president who was still sitting in his spot on the couch. “What?”

“What ever it is they are planning to do, we need to go in, and stop them.”

“We don’t even know how many there are! A handful, a dozen, or thousands!” Looking at the time on the clock above the door Kurt shook his head.

“There’d be reports if thousands of people went missing in such short time, or got implants. I figure there aren’t more than a hundred.” Looking at the president with enthusiasm Kurt felt tension rising. His idea involved him going in too.

With his lab exposed to vacuum, his wife among the linkers and his life’s work to blame for the situation, he felt obligated. Besides, if they had already started doing some of the work he suspected, who else but him should evaluate their motifs?

 

An hour had passed, Kurt was rushed to the police chief who mounted a small strike force, Leopold was put under protection. Meanhwile a clearly pale and devastated President made a public service announcement not to get any new implants, and if some doctor is offering it, he should be reported.

Over the radio Kurt overheard that several people reported their friends or loved ones getting such a new fancy implant under one pretense or another.

“Computer shows that about a hundred and fifty people have left for Valles Marineries.” Stewart Dixon, the officer in charge of the strike team, informed Kurt.

Sitting in a crammed cab, dressed in a semi environmental suit with armor elements, surrounded by twelve bulky men in similar outfits and guns, Kurt felt very uncomfortable. But it was his idea. “So tell me again, what are we going to face here?” Stu asked, making every man in the crammed room turn their head to face Kurt. “Humans. They have implanted themselves with a chip that allows for them to link their brains together, they are potentially dangerous, already two deaths can be attributed to their actions.” The cab slowed down to a crawl, soon an electric engine started moving the vehicle forward, the automatic transportation field had stopped working.

“ETA 30 minutes!” The woman in charge of navigating the cab barked over her shoulder. Moments earlier it had been a third of that time.

 

Half an hour of pondering about the ulterior motifs of the linkers in Valles Marineries later the cab finally docked with the local stop. The pilot decided to seal the dock, as she was not certain about the pressure in the tube, the cab had passed a few airlock shutters, which opened for them, but also closed behind them.

Since the tubes should always be pressurised, there was no pressure indicator in the control panel, which was conviently hidden beneath one of the seats.

The door opened, releasing them out into the dark entry hall of the Valles Marineries settlement. Old displays were hanging on the walls, the last image the so called E-Paper displayed was still visible. “Universal knowledge, peace and love.” Underneath those words a black and white depiction of mars, and a crown of leaves.

The people living here were also sort of cultists, Kurt remembered.

Guess your loving mother universe abandoned you in your moments of hunger. His attention soon was drawn to a tablet in the dirt.

It was active, and was running calculations, tied into a network obviously, as the speed at which these complicated calculations were performed, was higher than this tablet should be able to.

Kurt knew.

It was his tablet.

With a few taps he disconnected the tablet, and looked into the history of the files viewed. There was quite some activity, especially in his details of the device and its attachments.

Glad that he did not keep the information for the connector in the tablet, but had drawn them out on some paper which he later had burned, he put it into his pocket.

There was no need to review the calculations that were on display.

A short glance had been enough for him to recognise them. “They’re doing what I was afraid of.” He turned to Stu, who nodded once. Inching further onward with his gun ready.

“This locates most of them in a lower level.” The female police woman, now acting soldier, reported to Stu with a modified tablet in her hand. It picked up on the transponder signals of the normal implants.

“Anyone on this level?” Stu asked over his shoulder, a flashlight pointed in the direction his gun was aiming. “Negative, sir.”

Still cautious the men lowered their guns and proceeded onwards to a stairwell leading to the lower levels. Somehow Kurt doubted that the famine in the Valles Marineries settlement was the true story behind the downfall of the settlement. If they had the knowledge and resources to build a fusion reactor, a particle accelerator, and all that, they sure as hell had the resources to manufacture plenty of food.

And if it was algae in crammed plantations.

“I’m reading two people below us.” Immediately Stu shoved Kurt behind himself, raising the gun again, as did the others.

Not a moment too soon, as laser discharges struck the walls around them. The linkers on Mars were apparently not good at aiming. Kurt couldn’t blame them though, it was almost pitch black, and they only saw what was in the light of their flashlights, those lurking In the dark must’ve been blinded by the sudden bright light, and in the dark one could easily loose his aim.

The armed men returned fire, after a moment or two, the attack seized. Giving them the clear with a nod, the woman looked up from her tablet. Kurt had never gotten her name, and now it was too dark to read her name tag.

Cautiously the group proceeded onward, on the lower level they found the two bodies. A man and a woman. She wore a nurse’s outfit, and he had the looks of a man who had fled sickbed. Perforated by several laser blasts the two were lying lifeless on the stairs, guns in hands. A stern determination still on their faces, no agonised masks of death like Kurt had expected, but only stern determination.

Surely they were still out there, in the linked common consciousness, disembodied minds, thoughts and memories.

It gave Kurt a strange solace to know that although their bodies were dead, they were unharmed somewhere out there.

During their transfer to the settlement Kurt had told the others about the linkers and their nature, in the faces of some of the men who had fired, he saw the same spark of solace he felt.

“There are two more on the entrance to the next level, where the others are.” Erika Olafdottir hissed, in the light of a flashlight Kurt had finally caught a glimpse of her name tag. Guns ready the group proceeded onwards, as expected the next two guarding linkers were firing at the intruders with the same inefficient aim, and were overwhelmed just as quickly.

Behind the door to the level was a long hallway, the lights were on, making it easier to spot an ambush, but also to be targeted by said ambush. A moldy smell dominated the hallway, coming from the adjacent rooms. One door was open revealing what Kurt had suspected. Algae plants. Several of them. And they were active, so the famine was a ruse. Why would the government lie though? Was it just because the settlement was run by cultists, or was it because of something different?

“Most are dead ahaead, in a large room.” Crouched, trying every door along the way, finding the rooms empty, as foretold by Erika’s scanner, the men proceeded onwards.

A strange feeling grew in Kurt.

Something was wrong. He just couldn’t tell what exactly.

 

Behind the door that Erika had pounted out was a large messhall, overturned tables, stools strewn around the room.

Immediately the people around Kurt sought cover, but nothing happened. Left standing as the only one Kurt looked around the room. The messhall was just fake, at the far side of the room he could make out torn down fake walls, with the control room for the accelerator behind them.

But no people. “Get down you fool!” Stu hissed angrily.

“There’s no one here.” Kurt replied, baffled he wandered behind one of the overturned tables, picked something up. “Erika? Tell me if one of them is moving towards your position.” He paced towards her. “Affirmative!”

Peeking over the edge of the table behind which he had sought cover, Stu stared at Kurt. “The transponders. They removed them, rigged them to remain ‘active’ and placed them here.” Kurt eyed the rice corn sized implant and walked to the back of the room.

The implications of that discovery were, that all around them the linkers could be lurking without being traceable.

Somehow Kurt doubted that was the case, the guards with their horrible aim, but still active implants were there to throw them off.

Behind him he heard Stu bark out commands, to set up a a perimeter, and check for signs of the linkers.

Erika joined Kurt, she had ditched the tablet and walked next to him, with her gun drawn. “They’re not here. You won’t need that.” He stepped into the control room.

It began to dawn on him why the outpost was shut down. It wasn’t the famine, which was either grafted onto the situation, or it actually happened because everyone in the settlement was too busy to grow food, or check if it was poisonous.

 

Since the supposed rescue teams had been there extracting the last so called survivors, children mostly, the linkers were the first people in the Valles Marineries settlement. No one bothered to turn off the machines, check why they had suffered a famine, or what else was lying in the settlement. Someone knew, back then, but neglected to pass the information on. The facility was just abandoned, forgotten and the access restricted.

 

“Where are they if not here?” Erika also looked down the glass windows to the accelerator, growing quiet all of a sudden. “At my lab, contacting their friends. They made all possible versions of the connector I suspect. But then there’s this beauty.” Intrigued he leaned on the dusty control panel gazing down.

 

Glistening in the dim light, was the nose of a ship, it had a vague similarity with a pointy beak. The metal it was constructed from had an old look to it, but was still not oxidised and fused with the surrounding rock. “Once this is over, I need a metallurgist, and an army of engineers, excavators and the entire library from the device.”

Advertisements