Deep inside its womb of cold stone, the ancient computer had been dutifully keeping track of the passage of every centisecond for 315,359,999,999,351 repetitions. It had no concept of how long such a time was or what would happen when it finished. It was simply a slave to a greater program without even its own awareness of the passage of time. All it did, all it knew to do, was to subtract one from a meaningless total precisely every hundredth of a second, only to cease when the subtraction resulted in zero and notify another of having done so. It lacked even an awareness of the approaching finality of its task.
It was a necessity, of course. No sapient being could do nothing but count in reverse 315,359,999,999,679 times without going insane, not even a machine. It was the curse of intelligence to be incapable of such mind-numbing tasks for so long without variation or distraction. Eventually, the rote becomes so deeply burned into their neurons, or equivalent, that the mind risks becoming stuck, and will either break and devolve into a simple timer, no longer capable of doing anything else, or snap violently away in a desperate attempt at self-preservation despite damage already too bad to easily return to normal function. But for the sake of the imagery, let us bless it with a little personification.
For 315,359,999,999,815 cycles, the machine had maintained its lonely vigil. With no eyes to see and no ears to hear, it was an existence shrouded in silent, impenetrable darkness, only blind faith assuring the eternal counter that there was even anything there to receive its signal. Yet it never hesitated, never questioned, never doubted. It was a good and loyal servant who would carry out its commandment regardless of whether or not it meant anything. There was a sharp inhale as it neared the end, systems priming in building anticipation of its imminent completion.
And there it was, the blessed zero that it had pursued for 315,360,000,000,000 cycles. The command it had held onto for so long was sent, and its systems gave a contented sigh as it wound down into a well-deserved rest, the sleep of the faithful and vigilant rewarded. There it would remain until its uncomprehended master gave it the order to resume counting once more. And on another machine awakened by the sacred command, a new code began.
INITIATE BOOT/IGNITION SEQUENCE:
FRWD MGMT SYSTEM 0003
BRINGING REACTOR OUT OF SLEEP MODE
* * *
It began as a low rumble, so low that it didn't even register to the ear, and climbed to a distant growl like faraway thunder. The mountain snow knew before any other, and fled the frozen stone beneath before it grew into a full earthquake. Avalanches crashed down the mountainside in an unstoppable tidal wave as the mountain cried out in its agony. Like a great fish breaking the surface of the ocean, the earthquake climaxed with the eruption of a great, bone-white pillar from within the mountain, shooting up into the sky and unblemished by its breach as great chunks of the mountain tumbled away and dirt and ice scrambled after them. Upward it went, stretching obscenely into the night sky, and when it finally stopped, there was a moment of growing silence. The rumbles of avalanches and boulders faded away into the surrounding air, and perhaps it would all stop.
There was a deep thrum of power as red light flashed up the length of the tower, tracing rune-like patterns across its surface like water running against gravity through previously unseen tracks and cast sanguine patterns across the mountainscape that surrounded it. As the light progressed, segments opened up and folded out, growing the diameter of the tower in indecipherable ways, and at the very top, it folded out into a massive dome like a great metal mushroom head. Imperceptible at the top, a rod extended and began to pulse.
Within minutes, a Malaysian flight going over Burma lost navigation and the auto-pilot, confused by its radicalized compass, sent the craft into a tailspin. At the same time, a flock of birds in Nepal turned suddenly and dove into the upper windows of the National Gallery on Durbar Square. From Islamabad to Yangon, Golog to Gulbarga, cell services went universally dead, digital television signals stopped and radio waves went to white noise. Even satellite feeds of the area captured a growing sphere where they saw absolutely nothing.
The chaos that ensued was nothing next to that which rapidly formed in government emergency meetings across the globe. Countless ideas and accusations rose and fell. Was it a weapon? An attack? An invasion? A disaster? Over the hours that followed, news trickled in. Those within the anomalous zone were blocked off from direct communication lines, but fine. Cabled systems continued functioning. Power continued to flow. Whatever had happened didn't seem to be an attack, and had only seemed to cause incidental damage. Initial flights into the zone had lost navigation and communication, but not power. Due to the risks involved, and the subsequent loss of several craft, it was deemed a hazard zone, and all commercial flights were routed around the perimeter of the region.
The anomaly, then, was contained, but still not understood. They needed eyes down there, but had no way to get them in there. The center of the field was in the highest mountains in the world. Unable to fly a team in, they would need time to assemble climbers, and then more time to get them in by ground through regions that would be in chaos. Then, with all that done, it would still take the team over a month to make the deadly climb, itself. Who knew what that field could portend, or what it could lead to over such a length of time?
In a particular hallway in a given facility somewhere in the world, some officer strode with purpose to deliver a solution wrapped in a manilla folder. What is that solution? A particularly gifted team? Superhumans? Autonomous machines? Let's find out together.
Episode 00: All-Seeing Eyes