On her way home from school, Emily stopped at an ATM to get some money. She put in her card, tapped in her PIN and looked at the screen. “Damn!”
What is the problem.
[I thought I had more in there. I wanted to get some money out and buy something to eat on the way home. I’m starving.]
You want some money?
How much did you want?
[I dunno. Some.]
The ATM suddenly began the usual humming and flickety-flickety sounds. The cash door slid up and $50 notes began shooting out in a continuous blur like disturbed bats out of a cave, hitting Emily in the stomach and spewing onto the footpath. She just stood there, mouth agape, having never seen anything like it.
Emily finally came to her senses, “STOP! Make it stop RIGHT NOW!”
If you wish.
The torrent of banknotes slowed and finally stopped and the cash door slowly dropped shut. Emily opened her school bag, squatted down and began to hurriedly grab huge armfuls of notes and shove them in. Passers by, rather than snatching greedily for the money, simply watched in amazement and curiosity as Emily gathered the loot.
Is there a problem, Emily?
Emily grabbed her card from the ATM, walked into the bank and up to the Enquiries Desk.
“Can I help you, please? Did you want to open our new Student Saver Account?” asked the assistant.
Emily couldn’t find the words, “Uh ... the ATM gave out too much money.”
“Oh, it does that sometimes. If you want to just give me the extra note, I’ll make sure the daily tally for that machine reconciles,” the assistant said, smiling.”
“It’s not just one note,” said Emily, opening her schoolbag and giving the assistant a look. Her jaw dropped with amazement.
“That must be … thousands!” estimated the assistant. “I’ll have to get the Manager.” She actually pressed a silent alarm button that not only summoned the Manager, but also brought up the security screens with a hiss and an armed guard running. Emily shut her eyes and cringed with embarrassment.
With the hundreds of $50 notes stacked on the Manager’s desk, Emily told her story to him and left the bank.
As Emily walked up the street, she had a dark cloud over her face.
[We ... I mean I ... won’t steal.]
I am sorry, Emily. You said you needed money. I have seen that this is how people get money when they need it. I assumed it would be OK.
[No, people earn money, save money or invest it to make more money. The bank just holds the money for them. I was getting money out that already belonged to me.]
I see. Again, I am sorry. I simply instructed the machine to give you money and it obeyed. If I want money in future, I will endeavor to earn it or save it or invest it. I understand those concepts now.
[Wow, you know, the way you can find gold and make ATMs spew out money, you’re like a genie granting wishes.]
I assume you refer to the legendary creatures that offered three wishes to whomever owned them. I have studied these on your computer and the Internet. Yes, I can see your reason for suggesting I am similar, for I also thought this may have been a historical appearance of other Stones.
[You’re right! Genies might have been Stones like you and the guys just kept them hidden in lamps! I reckon you could put on a pretty impressive light show and make all kinds of smoke and stuff if I kept you in a lamp.]
“Your wish is my command.” That is a line from a movie, I believe. Or how about, “You ain’t never had a friend like me!”
[That’s a lot better.]
Emily’s Bank Manager was concerned that an ATM could dispense $50,000 in cash by accident, so he turned it off. He had the ATM software checked and found there was no problem. One of life’s mysteries, he supposed. He had the ATM kept offline until it could be replaced. Therefore, the WAWAA in the ATM computer didn’t have a chance to send its alert for several weeks.
Emily’s mother was already home by the time she finally arrived. Even though she knew people really couldn’t tell she was silently communicating with The Stone, she still didn’t like to do it amongst lots of people, because she was sure the look on her face would be weird.
“Hi, sweetie. I was just making a cup of tea. Would you like one?” her mom asked.
“No, thanks,” Emily replied.
“I thought you might like to sit and have a chat. I just got off the phone with the bank manager and ...”
Emily interrupted her mother, “Mom, I can explain, really.”
“No,” said her mother. “The chap explained everything.”
“Oh,” said Emily, sheepishly.
“He said that because of your honesty, the bank has decided to reward you the usual ten percent finder’s fee for locating and returning lost or stolen funds! Congratulations, baby, you now have $5,750 more in your bank account,” said her mother, proudly.
“Gosh, all I did was walk 5 meters into the bank. Five thousand bucks!” said Emily, amazed.
Honesty obviously does pay, Emily.
Her mother took the motherly approach, “Now, I want you to plan on saving that money. With the money we might get for those gold nuggets, you’ll have a nice little nest egg for college.”
“Well, considering you’ve already kept the biggest nugget for the hospital’s next charity auction, the egg won’t be that big,” Emily said, loving to get a little dig in once and a while.
“OK, cheeky miss, that’s enough of that! Off you go and do your homework,” said her mother, pouring her tea. Emily hurried off to her room.
Emily lay on her bed with her head towards the bottom, finishing her homework. The Stone was sitting on the desk next to her bed.
[You’re very quiet tonight.]
I’ve been looking inside your computer again. The Stone was beside Emily’s computer, its screen dark.
[It’s not even on.]
That is not a problem, however if you turn it on, it will be easier.
Emily’s mother tapped on the half open door and came in without waiting for an answer. She had a basket of clean, folded laundry perched on her hip. She plunked it down on top of Emily’s chest of drawers and proceeded to pull out the drawers from top to bottom and methodically took clothes from the basket in the same order and dropped them straight in.
“How do you do that, Mom,” asked Emily. “You know, have the clothes in just the right order to go in my drawers from top to bottom?”
Her mom pondered this while continuing to put the clothes away, “Dunno. I guess my job at the hospital helps me keep things in order.”
“Fundraising?” said Emily, skeptical.
“Well, I have to keep all those names and amounts of donations in order ... who gave how much and when it’s time for us to ask for some more,” said her mom. “Computers can only do so much.” With the empty basket on her hip, she turned to leave when she noticed The Stone on the desk and picked it up. “This is cute. What is it?”
Knowing that truth is always stranger than fiction, Emily casually remarked, “Oh, it’s an ancient alien Stone that came to Earth millions of years ago with the mission to help us evolve, but it’s stuck with me. It’s highly intelligent and made from solid diamond.”
“So, my baby’s the missing link, huh? What a nut job,” chuckled her mother. “You have such a crazy imagination. Still, it’s very pretty. Diamond, huh? Good one, Em.” On that note of sarcasm, Emily’s mom put The Stone down and left.
You sometimes lie to your parents when you should tell the truth and then sometimes you tell the whole truth and make it seem like a big lie.
[Yeah, well. I’m a kid. That’s my job.]
[That’s a line from a movie, too.]
I know. You saw it when you were seven.
[I wish you would sometimes keep stuff about me to yourself, alright?]
I apologize. Will you activate the computer for me now?
Emily reached over and hit the power key to boot up her computer, an old candy-colored iMac. Emily had covered it in sticky notes and pop star photos.
[It was my mom’s old one and she gave it to me when she got a new one. It still works really good, for a hand-me-down.]
It is quite sufficient. I can enhance its capabilities and improve its function when I interface with it. Can you place me next to it, please?
[Right next to it?]
I’d like to be connected to it somehow. As you know, I work better when I am in direct contact, like when you hold me.
[Do you want me to put you inside?]
No, that might be impractical. I have a better idea. Would you also turn on your printing device, please?
Emily turned on the printer and sat back to watch. An incredibly quick sequence of images and schematics flashed on the computer screen and then the printer began to hum and frantically zip back and forth. A list of material requirements and line drawings emerged.
If you can fabricate this device, Emily, it will help me make direct contact with your computer and the Internet. I will be able to function much more efficiently.
[Sure. Hang on, how do I know you’re not going to take over the world?]
Do you want me to take over the world?
[You’re kidding, right?]
No, it is actually possible. From what I have seen, your world is very vulnerable to the creation of a totally chaotic state through the collapse of financial and communication infrastructure, whereupon a powerful computer ...
[That’s OK ... No, I don’t want you to do that. Leave the world alone. I’ll make this thing for you.]
Emily read the list. She reached into the bottom drawer of her desk and pulled out a couple of computer cables. She then snatched up The Stone and headed downstairs.
Emily’s mom and dad were sitting together on the lounge, watching TV.
“Dad, can I use your tools in the garage?” Emily asked sweetly. “I’m really good and safe. I got an A in shop class.”
Her dad turned, a bit surprised at this request, “What are you going to make, Sweetie?”
“Just something for my pet rock.”
Her dad laughed, “Pet rock?”
Her mother whispered conspiratorially, “It’s actually an intelligent alien diamond from a galaxy far, far away. Our daughter is Luke Skywalker.”
“Does that make me Darth Vader? A pet rock, huh? Now there’s a blast from the past. I had one when I was your age,” confessed Emily’s dad. “It was just a bit of basalt. Are they back in again? Did you get the little book that tells you how to train them? To do things like sit and play dead?”
“Nuh,” said Emily, “Mine is pretty talented already.”
If only they knew.
“So, can I use your tools, Dad? I can solder and everything.”
“Be careful, Sweetie,” her dad said to her back as Emily was already heading for the garage. He turned back to the TV, “Ah, the son I never had.”
“It’s not too late, you know,” said her mom, coyly.
“You never said you wanted another baby ... uh ... did you?” he retorted.
“You never asked,” she shot back.
“Yeah, well ... I guess,” surrendered Emily’s dad. “We can practice some more, I suppose.”
Her mother snuggled in under his arm, “When are you going to stop practicing and perform?”
With The Stone’s printed plan in front of her, Emily quickly began to pull tools off of the wall and out of drawers. She clipped the end off of one of the computer cables with wire cutters and stripped off the insulation. She then grabbed a roll of copper wire and began cutting lengths from it.
[You’re somehow helping me do this, aren’t you? You’re guiding my hands.]
Yes, I am helping you process the images from the diagram and to turn them into actions, but you are doing most of the work yourself.
You are the driver. I am simply the navigator.
The device began to take form ... a small cage of copper wire in an intricate pattern, soldered securely together.
[Do you think it should have some sort of resistor in case there is a power surge or something, so you don’t get hurt? I remember my shop teacher always said things that get plugged in should always have a fail safe.]
Your shop teacher offers good advice, but your house has special connections that prevent unintentional electrocution. I do not think I will damage your computer, or your appliances, as I will constantly monitor all systems. Also, I am pretty indestructible. Being a solid diamond does have its benefits.
Emily lifted her safety goggles and turned off the soldering iron. She looked pretty satisfied with her work ... their work.
[There. I think that’s it.]
Sitting before her was the completed device for The Stone to connect to the computer. It looked like a little silver space ship. The red copper frame was now covered in gleaming tin foil. A hinged door on the top opened to admit The Stone. The computer cable was securely soldered to one end.
Emily’s mother called from the kitchen, “Em, time for bed. School night.”
Her dad wasn’t far behind, “And make sure all my tools are put away where you found them.”
Emily opened the drawer on the front of the workbench and swept everything into it, apart from the device, and called back, “All done!” She grabbed the device and The Stone and headed for bed.
When Emily entered her bedroom, the computer was still on. She plugged the device into the side, opened the little door and placed The Stone inside.
[See, I even put a little seat in there for you that wasn’t in the plans.]
Thank you, though it isn’t necessary. You are very thoughtful.
“Have a nice time. I’m getting ready for bed,” said Emily aloud as she grabbed her pajamas and headed out the door to the bathroom. A few minutes later, she came back in, shut the door, clicked off the room light and climbed into bed. Emily glanced over at the computer.
The screen was mostly dark, apart from sparks and flashes that occasionally marked the screen, and there was a slight glow from the device.
[Goodnight.] She didn’t really expect a reply.
Pleasant dreams, Emily. Thank you for helping me achieve this extra connectivity.
[You’re welcome. Just please don’t take over the world, OK?] Emily flicked off her bedside lamp and turned over, quickly falling into a deep, peaceful sleep.
Deep inside the mountain, the World’s Largest Super Computer came to life. It was actually more than one computer, located in several different areas, but they all had a single purpose and a combined identity: ABACUS.
Massive banks of drive indicators began to flicker. RAM began to fill with trillions of bits of information. Processors with speeds clocked in the dozens of gigahertz began their feverish work.
An alarm sounded in the control room. It was probably wrong to call it an alarm, as it was simply a quietly repeating sound file and a unique flashing icon in the corner of every monitor securely encrypted to the network.
The icon was a drop of water hitting the centre of a circle and appearing to ripple out. This was a simple four-step animation created by one of the computer nerds in their lunch hour. This was the symbol of the EAU.
The sound file, though, was very recognizable: it was the main theme from the movie “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.” In the early days of the EAU, they used the theme from the television show “The Twilight Zone,” but everyone who remembered that series had long retired, so a more current theme was chosen. One day, even “Close Encounters” would be forgotten.
The control room for the world’s largest super computer was sealed in a secure bunker and controlled 24/7 by two senior members of the EAU, working in shifts. They sat at identical consoles several metres apart.
Those working in the mountain turned as one and looked at the nearest monitor when the alarm sounded and immediately sprang into action. They were all dressed in identical blue uniforms, though not from any known army, navy or air force. These uniforms were all adorned with the same symbol as the flashing icon: A drip of water and a rippled circle. The EAU.
When the alarm sounded in the secure bunker, the two senior agents each checked their System Status Boards, first for the indication that this was only a drill and second that it is not some kind of false alarm. When neither was the case, they both turned to look at each other for a brief instant before going into their automatic, well-rehearsed routine.
They both simultaneously opened secure covers over very elaborate locks and inserted identical security keys they had worn around their necks for years. Together, they counted down from five out loud and turned the keys at the same instant when they both reached “Zero!”
What they were launching was far deadlier than any nuclear missile. It was the coordinated worldwide response to an alien invasion.