TBD: Part 3

Bullet scanned the crowd, all of us sitting there and watching him, and continued. “For you to understand this, we’re going to have to step back for a second and review some things that everybody thinks they know, and then I’ll tell you which ones are really true.

“Everybody knows that the Heroes League claimed to be fighting aliens in 1970’s. Some people think the aliens were faked by the government. Some even think they were really aliens, but they were hired by the government. Either way, everyone knows there are superheroes who claim to be aliens even though they look a lot like humans.”

That was all too true. The “alien” heroes I’d seen on TV could have been faked by a good special effects department. All they needed were prosthetic foreheads, pointy ears, oddly colored makeup, and weird teeth.

They’d look at least as real as anything on Star Trek.

Bullet paused, checked his notes. “You know why they look like humans? They are human, or at least they’re close to it. Very few real aliens have ever been on Earth. One exception—the Abominators. Some of you might have heard the name. Most of you haven’t. The Abominators found Earth, turned humans into their soldiers, and seeded star systems all around this part of the galaxy with humans they’d modified. Then they used them to conquer other aliens—the real ones.

“They left our world fallow, and forbid any of their soldiers to come here to avoid messing up the unmodified stock.

“After a while, they managed to brush up against the Xiniti, a particularly murderous bunch of aliens, and the Xiniti slaughtered the Abominators—except for a few that managed to escape here. They were planning to use our planet to hide out, and breed a new bunch of super-soldiers, but it didn’t work out.

“The Heroes League ran into them, and the League brought in a bunch of younger heroes they’d trained to help fight. In the end, we won. Instead of destroying the planet like they usually did with Abominator worlds, the Xiniti decided they owed the League for their help with the last Abominators.

“And that’s why you even exist, and why this planet isn’t barren rock.”

He paused, looked all of us over again, probably to get a sense of our reactions.

I’d known a lot of it already. I checked the faces of people near me.

Well, maybe not right near me. I’d sat with the rest of the League, and we’d talked through all of this when Lee told me what he really was. We’d talked about it again after Cassie brought home that Abominator gun, and even checked into League records.

So, none of us seemed particularly surprised.

In the rest of the room, reactions varied, but a lot of people were freaking out. They weren’t rioting or anything, but I’d heard a girl behind me say, “That can’t be real,” and a guy say, “Abominator?”

Another girl said, “It’s true. Look at them. They already knew.”

By “them” she probably meant us. Could she read body language or was it some form of psi?

Bullet held his hands up. “Quiet everybody. We’re not even up to the good part yet. I’m just warming up to current events.

“Right now, the real aliens have formed an alliance, and guess who’s not in it? Us. They’ve set the Xiniti to quarantine the whole spiral arm. They claim they’ll someday let Earth become a member, but I’m not counting on it.

“You know why? Because they can’t see humans as anything but Abominator foot soldiers, and they never will. Even if they somehow warm up to us, our homicidal cousins out in space aren’t helping. Once they got out from under the Abominator yoke, they started wars with each other, burnt all the life off a few worlds, and have been constantly antagonizing the Xiniti.”

He stopped for a second, his mouth in a straight line. “Does that sound bad enough?”

Someone near us muttered, “Yes.”

“Well, good news. The bright spots in this whole outer space situation are that invading planets mostly isn’t worth the effort, and the Abominators pumped Earth up as some kind of holy place, so our cousins don’t want to burn us to a cinder.

“Sounds better, right? Well, it’s not. Owning Earth would be worth a lot to any faction that took us over. They might even be able to unite all our cousins into one force again. So, they’re quietly infiltrating, making alliances, bribing people, and taking over countries if they think they can manage it.

“We’re going to train you to find them and fight them.”

32 thoughts on “TBD: Part 3”

  1. It’s really nice to get this out there finally.

    I’ve had mixed feelings about having Bullet explain it all at once like this, but as much as I normally try to avoid lectures as a way of conveying basic information about the story, this would have to happen at some point near the beginning of the Stapledon program.

    So, there we go.

  2. Psycho Gecko presses a button labeled “Push, I dare you, you know you wanna,” causing Australia (now you know why everything on it can kill people) to rise up and transform into a massive arm holding a giant revolver that then aims itself back at the Earth. Gecko opens up a channel to the various aliens out there. “Alright, every sentient non-human off Earth, or Sheriff Bart gets it.” Breaks into a whiny voice, “Do what he says, he a serious mental whackjob, he’ll do it!” Goes back to his normal voice, “You get off this gorram rock in two arns and everything will be frelling shiny, tu comprendas?”

  3. Heh. Good luck with finding any human impersonators with seven billion people on the planet, especially if they are cousins of humanity. All said alien needs is a subtle mindshield and a bit of intelligence and they’re as good as impossible to find.

    Suppose you need a minute to check someone is human, including the time to go from person to person and/or access your files to see who you’ve already checked. Suppose there are a thousand people doing the checking in a 24/7/52 basis (so you actually got about 5 times as many people checking in shifts). You’d need fourteen years to check the existing population if everything goes perfectly.
    In fact, worldwide there will be more people born in a year than you could check in the same amount of time.

    And that’s without the aliens knowing you’re searching so they wait until you’ve already checked someone then go kill and impersonate them or plain changing identities.

  4. Therein lies the brilliance of my comment, Belial. Threaten to destroy the planet if they don’t get the hell off. It seems to be just that important to them. Naturally, this is a time when you need some insane villain to save the world by using an evil scheme to threaten to destroy it.

    Some people wonder if God plays dice with the universe. I say we change the game…Russian Roulette, anyone?

  5. Not so brilliant. Last time someone did something similar somewhere, the enemy spies were ordered to retreat from their agencies. But not all of them – only the less competent 75% or so that ran the highest risk of exposure.

    So those 1 in 4 left behind? They were the most effective to begin with and now that all the spies that the enemy had actually seen had retreated, they were even more free to act and more effective then before. 🙂

  6. Hmm. Sounds like you need a scalable search tool…

    I wonder if Nick might have some ideas about robot cockroaches, clustered around, so report via, some sort of mobile AI? Or, maybe you cyborg up rats (using rats to cyborg more rats), and use the fact you are never supposed to be more than two yards from a rat, anyplace humans live? Full-blown nano tech supposed tasked with getting a genetic assay of all macroscopic life forms on the planet, via skin flakes they drop? A planet-wide magical ritual, which assays human life energies, and shows-up anomalies? More than one of the above and cross-reference?

    Of course, all of these have great potential for going “Bang!” when (not if) they are subverted. [grin]

  7. So, you’re all looking at this from a ‘check every indiviual on the earth’ standpoint. While that’s certainly the most thorough way to go about it, it’s also probably the least efficient.

    As the infiltrators are after power and influence to ease their takeover, you target your search to the rich, powerful, and influential. By monitoring for behavior that makes no earthly sense (pun totally intended) umongst movers, shakers, and powers behind thrones, you should be able to net the alien badguys (or at least the ones that are an actual threat). As an added bonus, you snap up the loose-cannon-crazy human villains with the same sweep. Win/Win.

  8. It’s profoundly inefficient to canvas the entire populace looking for alien spies. A much smarter approach would be to monitor only those of influence and those partaking in activities that might be of interest to spies.

    Even if the guy flipping meat at the local burger joint were an alien, they’re of so little consequence they can be left alone.

  9. If you’re looking for not very smart infiltrators, certainly. But those that need to be seen to wield power in order to wield it will betray themselves anyway so why look for them?

    OTOH, that alien living in the quet residential neighborhood and is using the internet-cafe in another city or even nameless/false identity mail to send ideas to R&D labs that will lead to Abominator technology developed by the government within a decade is far harder to find.
    So is the supersmart alien living in a 3rd world country that is an economic genius and has, via proxy, been influencing the investments of major corporations covertly in a way that will lead to economic crisis and 50% reduced spending for the military, crippling namy governments’ ability to deal with external threats.
    And let’s not even mention the alien living as a fisherman in India that can lay tiny, rice-sized eggs in the seas by the dozen… that will eventually grow up to become Godzilla equivalents or strange fungi that produce a couple pounds of Botox per annum, whose lethal dose for humanoids is around 80 billionths of a pound.

    The most dangerous spy is not the one who gets elected your country’s president. It’s the one that sneaks in a bioweapon to some major cities’ water supply.

  10. I’m not sure why everyone thinks it’s so difficult to find aliens. Just write a program that hits every Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and MySpace profile, and check the “home town”. If it’s something off-Earth, then it’s probably an alien. Problem solved. Wouldn’t take more than a few hours to write, and your average laptop to could run it in a few days, assuming its Internet connection wasn’t flaky (i.e. don’t just hack into the Starbuck WiFi).


  11. I nobody else concerned that every single person in the Stapledon program is being trained into a counter-insurgency force? I spy brainwashing, doublespeak and conditioning coming up.

    Because really, these kids sign up for a college program for supers, probably thinking it’ll train them into heroes. But it turns out that, every one of them, no choice, is instead going to be trained up as alien-hunters and government goons.

    I feel that the next major ‘enemy’ is actually going to end up being the Gov’t, not the aliens.

  12. If the goal of these alien spies, even the best, most deeply embedded ones, is to take control of earth as some sort of mecca of LoN’s Kree/Inhumans, then I still feel a credible attempt to blow up the whole planet works, because even the most effective can’t risk that. Either they would have to retreat, as asked, or they would have to make some attempt to stop whatever is happening. It is by forcing them to act that you find them.

    Plus, this idea of training a hundred teenage superheroes to be spies is a bit ridiculous. The vast majority of your most effective means of obtaining information are things that someone without powers can do. Also, there are ways to figure out a hero’s identity despite the mask. If these people find a generic bug, no big deal, they know to be cautious. If they find a roachbot, they know the Rocket is after them, they know which area to stay away from, and they know that if they caused widespread enough damage to that area, they’d likely kill his family. Spies may also set up a scenario that throws a contact off guard, either by seeing how they react to cops being called on them as a regular person, or otherwise putting them off balance in a situation. For a regular spy, that means acting the part. For a superhero, that means not throwing their influence around and not letting their powers slip out in response. It also means taking those supers off the streets and putting them into spy stuff.

    All in all, this isn’t a scenario where you just throw supers at the problem and it goes away in no time. This is a long game meant to be played subtle.

    If you want a shortcut, though, I suppose you could just keep track of the signals leaving earth and look for anything suspicious, but that requires a level of widespread tech-savviness that most agencies don’t really have. We send out so much random crap already that’d it’d be easy to hide a message encrypted underneath the multiple signals so that you’d have to monitor the whole range of them just to get the entire message, which could probably still wind up being in those aliens’ version of the Navajo code instead of something we have translation programs for.

    Not to mention, not all the aliens on earth are here to invade. Some of them just have a thing for anal sex with men in overalls (Hey, there’s just about a fetish for everything). I bet there’s plenty of aliens with tentacles out there who love Japanese porn.

    It’s also unfair, as mentioned, to draft teenagers into secret invasion spy detail just because they have powers. Everybody knows that the best agents to deal with extraterrestials are white guys who got lost and handed an alien some flowers, as well as street-smart former-rapper cops who can run down a cephalopod wielding a de-ionizing atomizer with mutate capacity.

  13. From the dialogue, it appears that everyone is out of costume, hence the “Hi Nick” references. Hope they didn’t want to keep/continue their respective secret identities.

  14. Um, Jim, is the Abominator use of modified humans as a source of foot soldiers supposed to be a Stargate SG-1 reference?

  15. Not really. It is a pretty common science fiction trope, and I’m using it here. You’ll find genetically modified human soldiers all over. Also… We’re not quite done with this section yet, so there are a few more important points on the issue to hit.

    Actually, on this particular point, I’m probably more indebted to one of Roger Zelazny’s short stories. Can’t remember the name of it though.

  16. For example, there’s Marvel’s Kree coming to Earth a long time ago and modifying some of the humans there to use as soldiers. They never really got around to using them as such, though, so they left these Inhumans to fend for themselves on Earth, at least until they relocated to the Moon and then eventually left to take over the remnants of the Kree, who had been greatly weakened by the Annihilation Wave and Annihilation: Conquest, though they did ok with the Secret Invasion.

  17. To get a signal off-planet, you use a directional optical transmittor. It can be a laser, a big flashlight, a portable TV or laptop you take with you when you go camping.
    When you reach the camping site, you make sure your tent has a hole somewhere about ten centimetes wide. You position your laser, flashlight or portable TV/laptop so as to be visible through the hole only through a narrow, specific angle. And then you use the alien equivalent of morse code by flashing the light emmitter of your choice through the hole either manually (which is very slow) or via an automated program (which can be really fast).
    A couple dozen thousand miles above you in geosynchronous orbit lies the stealthed alien drone with any systems that have active emmissions shut down. It has a high-definition but entirely passive optical telescope aimed down at you as exactly the right angle to see the optical signals you’re sending and record them. Once it does get the message, it opens up a reaction thruster working through unignited, very, very cold helium in a low setting, generating minor delta-vee that will silently take it far enough to activate its fusion/paragravity thrusters undetected over a period of days, even weeks.

    Such a method of getting the signal out is nigh undetectable. First, only people in a narrow angle from your position could ever intercept the signal. Secondly, the signal is optical and low power that only someone looking straight at you with a very high-power optical telescope (not your usual sci-fi sensor) can actually see it. Third, there are no other EM emmissions that can be detected at all. Fourth, sending the signal requires only mundane technology on the spy’s part, technology that can’t be tracked in advance.
    On the receiver end, the stealthed drone could be smaller than a human given sufficient miniaturization. It will have no active emmissions and its reaction thruster’s operation will leave no radiation, gravitic distortions, ionized particles or copious amount of exhaust to detect and even the exhaust it will leave behind will be near abolute zero to begin with, thus having no thermal emmissions either. Good luck monitoring a transmission like that.
    (also, given sufficient zoom capacity, a passive telescope could receive subtle sign language from a “random” guy in a fishing boat in India via the simple expediency of just being able to see that far)

    On the threat of blowing up the planet, there are two options; either you do cause an Earth-Shattering Kaboom and everybody dies or your threat is useless. The alien spies don’t have to honor the threat because by the time you issue it they already can’t. Suppose all of them honor it and leave – how do they prove to someone willing to destroy their own planet that all of them actually left? There’s no way for them to prove that so if you were honest about destroying the Earth, you’d have to do it anyway.
    And since you can’t be sure all of them left and they can’t convince you, they gain nothing from all of them actually leaving or even acting against the threat at all. They could even sit tight and let Earth’s heroes handle you – or anyone else not wanting the Earth destroyed that isn’t them.
    Ultimately, they can keep at least some of their number on the planet under cover and anyone proposing the planet’s destruction as a viable tactic will come across as a lunatic… leading to the whole “alien infiltration” threat to be discredited.

  18. What you do is to use multiple approaches, and combine the info from them all. Looking for the obvious aliens is a good start, then you completely violate their mental privacy human rights (mind rip) using someone like Daniel. From this you gain leads to other aliens.

    It is implied that Abominator work, maybe including the gene work done on these human-aliens (or their ancestors) includes a clearly readable signature. If you can figure out how Cassie’s Gun reads this…

    Then, a load of stealthed comms probes, checking in case there is detectable comms traffic off-planet, particularly using any ‘secret’ comms system based on Abominator tech. Asking the real aliens for support in developing these probes, as they probably have this issue themselves (though likely with things like infiltration drones, rather than human-scale beings) sounds like a win-win situation for both sides.

    Then there is the hard grind of looking for strange patterns in even the fringe media. Also in scientific research about unusual social, ecological or environmental changes. Pump money into blue-sky research, with the requirement that all raw data must be kept available. Abominator tech has likely got some recognisable “fingerprints” worth checking – again the real aliens may provide intel.

    Then, you try and get (historical) analyses of all the work done by as many of the Abominator gene-mod labs as possible, to map the sort of alien threats you will face. And classify as many of the alien as you can using these. With Lee and Cassie’s (Gun’s) help you could probably get 95%+ of them.

    Combine all this, and, you have got some targets. Follow normal legal procedures, and use normal police if possible, smart aliens will be using (maybe unknowing) human dupes, SWAT teams if feasible, with HazMat teams and super heroes as a fall-back.

    Hope the aliens haven’t got too many shapeshifters, particularly those with deep immersion infiltration methods (like they actually believe, maybe even at a deep level, that they _are_ their role). Or, those with telepathic hypnosis, particularly with the “implant hidden secondary personality with triggers” abilty.

    All in all, this job looks like a really long haul…

  19. Jim, have you considered the biological problems of strains of humanity that have been off-planet for thousands of years?

    Think “War of the Worlds”.

    The concept of hostile invasion of alien worlds really wouldn’t work too well most likely. Of course, a simultaneous infusion of sufficiently aggressive flora and fauna modified to survive in the local soil might work but definitely would not be subtle.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_Against_the_Chtorr

  20. Things that I remember most vividly about the books are the reactions of world leaders when the main character admits they’ve been using flamethrowers against the alien fauna. Also that the author makes a strong, logical argument against holding people responsible for what was done by previous generations.

  21. Andrul: I’ve heard of the Chtorr books, but hadn’t read them. Having now checked out the Wikipedia entry, I’m thinking I should. It sounds like they’re partly a commentary on Heinlein, and I’ve enjoyed his work, so I might get a lot of the references.

    I’ve given some thought to alien flora and fauna though. Gregory Benford had a series in which aliens used that approach as well (though it only mattered in one book of the series).

    PG: The way Marvel did things with the Kree and Inhumans is a definite influence on this.

    Forum Solipsist: It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Blade Runner.

    Evil Twin: There will be more on how this works with/against secret identities in the next bit…

  22. If you want a “realistic” idea on how to find these target aliens, just watch the TV show “Person of interest”. In the program a guy was part of a very black, black op to create a program/machine combination. This machine would look for patterns at what might be up to a six degree of separation. This kind of scrutiny would be able to link that geeky dad who enjoys a cup of Kenya AA coffee, listening to a beat poet to web traffic concerning the alien’s plans.

  23. A realistic idea is to capture or get the remains of one such alien guy and then build a bioweapon genetically keyed to only harm them and not normal humans.
    Finding dead bodies is usually a lot easier than finding people that don’t wish to be found and you can always blame the “common cold” for the aliens’ deaths.

  24. Listen, we all look up some very strange things. I read a thing about a leak of AOL user data that revealed the anonymous User 927 having all kinds of wierd searches. I’d look terrible as well, what with researching nerve agents, blister agents, hallucinogenic compounds, spice, thermite, and how to break into an ATM. Research is very important, that’s all!

    Also, now that I’ve had a moment to step outside the crazy zone (adjacent to Tom Cruise’s Danger Zone), I’d like to address that you would need a powerful telescope on a satellite in orbit to pick up a flashlight out in the middle of the woods. The satellite itself would have to keep itself powered up, as well, unless it only activated at some preset certain time, which meant anything needing reporting out of that time wouldn’t work. The satellite itself would need to stay where it could see that spot, or be ready to adjust itself to reach that spot at the appropriate time, while also firing off enough to maintain its orbit, since things in space real close to Earth have a tendency to be pulled by our gravity.

    Also, as for picking that spot, it would have to be preset. Someone would have had to infiltrated Earth before you and get the message back without their own satellite there, and hope that in the meantime nobody decided to pave over it, otherwise you’re camping in a brand new Wal-Mart parking lot. Which could still happen if it is to train on that one spot. Seeing as it’s doubtful you could reprogram the satellite with flashlight morse code, you’d need to stand there looking nice and suspicious.

    Since it needs to remain powered, the aliens will have a few options: utilize powersources sufficiently similar to Earth’s, which is problematic for that whole “getting away” thing that requires a warp gate of some kind. Or they could use whatever cold fusion-esque stuff they have to get away, which probably shows up on the monitors back on earth. Third, they put both systems in, which would probably make some people cringe at the increased risk of something screwing up, as things tend to do. Like that Mars climate thing we lost, a lot of cash going down the drain with it, because someone didn’t use the metric system in one part of the systems. Lastly, they could have it hitch a ride on any ships leaving through the Xiniti gate, but that is hoping that those ships pass into the area, can’t detect the thing, and that the Xiniti won’t fry it once they see a hitchhiker on a ship like that.

    While some Earth satellites use solar power, that’s not going to do a good job flying your spy satellite out of the way, especially not with a solar sail.

    As I mentioned with the third point up there, the problem with keeping things in space is that all kinds of things can, and do, go wrong. If not for a felt tip pen, we’d have never gotten astronauts back from the moon. They almost didn’t even land because their systems didn’t compensate for the shift in fuel showing them having too little to even take back off again if they did land. And they would have been beaten to the moon if the USSR’s launch, earlier than the U.S.’s launch, hadn’t exploded. Ah, but as we learn more, those problems go away, right? We used the space shuttles for 30 years. We had something from the 80s keep flying us to space into the 2000s. Except the designs for it were more or less started in the 70s.

    That’s why I just figured they’d piggyback a signal, since we send those off into space all the time and there’s a lot less risk of something going wrong. Heck, when the U.S. uses a spy satellite, they don’t act like they’re not sending something up. They just send it up with a weather satellite or claim it is one itself. Same with the U2 spy plane. The U designation just stands for Utility, a relatively shallow attempt to cover up what it was for. Later, during the U2 incident in Russia, they tried to claim it was for weather research.

    Don’t make something that’s there look like it isn’t. Just make it look like something else. Hang a lampshade on it maybe.

    In an unrelated note about humans being used as alien soldiers, Farscape. I remember now that Sebaceans are modified humans who were used as a military force to keep the peace for this other group of aliens that disappeared.

    If you would like your own satellite sent into space and have $8,000 to burn, I suggest http://www.interorbital.com/TubeSat_1.htm

  25. Ooops, Psycho Gecko, your research is slightly incomplete. As it turns out, Neil Armstrong was lying about the pen. He just didn’t want the funding cut by the committee he was talking to, and came up with this grand lie as an “unknowable ends justifying the means” excuse to keep the cash flowing on the space program. (Not that I blame him. It really is as important as every penny they spent on it, even for fancy pens that write in space. We sure as heck wouldn’t have miniature computers in our pockets right now, a.k.a smartphones, if not for the space program’s miniaturization requirements that led to the development of the transistor as a switch in computers. Yes, they still would have been developed, just not on such an accelerated schedule. We’d probably still be waiting another 20 years for wide scale access to that Japanese porn you were talking about.)

    But yes, it’s still a great story (about the pen, that is).


  26. Hydrargentium, I don’t know what Armstrong saying the ends justifying the means has to do with:

    “We discovered during a long checklist recitation that the ascent engine’s arming circuit breaker was broken off on the panel. The little plastic pin (or knob) simply wasn’t there. This circuit would send electrical power to the engine that would lift us off the moon…We looked around for something to punch in this circuit breaker. Luckily, a felt-tipped pen fit into the slot.” – Buzz Aldrin, Men From Earth.

    Also, about the idea of a bioweapon designed to hunt aliens…we’re talking things that have enough of a similarity to humans that they can remain undetected on Earth. You want to build a virus to hunt them down when we’re worried about swine flu caught from pigs and avian flu caught from birds? If you set it to just attack humanoid things deviant from some “standard” human, you’d likely kill off southpaws, people with green eyes, and the lactose intolerant, and that’s hoping it doesn’t take the “non-human” thing too seriously and kill off all the animals and the sufficiently suspicious plants out there (I got my eye on you tulips. One wrong move…aha!…no, wait, didn’t move…yet).

    You’d leave the planet depopulated of humans where these aliens could come back around and just take it afterwards. At least blowing it up would deny the aliens the sacred planet Earth to use for gathering together an interstellar army for galactic conquest.

  27. Actually, it would be the Lactose Tolerant that would be affected. Lactose intolerance in adults is actually the ‘norm’ for humans, and most other animals.

    Not to mention this virus would end up killing every single superhero on the planet.

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